Bungled IR35 determinations in the NHS are deterring desperately needed contracting IT professionals from working there and imperilling the entire future of the health service, a specialist IT contractor recruiter has warned.
Graham Smith, head of marketing at Curo Talent, cites a recent article from the British Journal of Healthcare Computing in which the CIO of NHS England, Dr Harpreed Sood, said that the NHS lacked clinical professionals who were capable of driving much-needed transformational change via technology and informatics. In short, the NHS has a digital skills deficit that makes it heavily reliant on the externally-sourced expertise of contracting IT professionals.
Yet, the NHS is facing serious disruption to its access to the IT contractor expertise it urgently requires as a direct result of IR35 reforms imposed in April last year.
The need for this external expertise was highlighted in May last year when the NHS fell victim to a massive ransomware attack. A subsequent investigation found that too many staff were unaware that opening email attachments or clicking on unknown email links could expose their systems to cybercrime, and out of date virus protection software certainly didn’t help. Contracting IT pros, who bring extensive experience in cybersecurity, are equipped to train NHS staff in protecting against the latest cyberthreats and keeping the NHS more secure.
However, IR35, Smith says, could prove to be the Achilles Heel that causes the entire service to crumble by deterring this expertise.
The reforms shifted responsibility for determining a freelancer’s employment status for tax purposes from the individual contractor, where it had traditionally resided, to the end client or engaging recruiter, who thereby became liable for any unpaid tax. As the reforms were implemented hurriedly, contrary to the advice of numerous industry experts, including umbrella company trade associations PRISM and the FCSA, end engagers who were unfamiliar with the new legislation were given too little time to prepare.
In the NHS, this drove many Trusts to implement blanket determinations, a measure which was both against official guidance and wholly at odds with the need to assess on a contract by contract basis in accord with the complex case law upon which the legislation is based. Unsurprisingly, faced with losing around 25% of their income, many contractors, including IT pros, chose to leave the NHS altogether.
Given their paramount importance to the NHS, Smith concludes: “The NHS needs to plan for IR35 assessments to put the minds of IT contractors at ease and reduce the risk of alienating them. This can’t be taken for granted if the NHS is ever to realise its potential as part of the future smart city.”