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Featured case: NHS Jobs: Using Digital Platforms to
Transform Recruitment Across the English & Welsh
National Health Service

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The case

Who – the protagonists

Kit Jones, Director of Methods Group’s public sector practice (creators of NHS Jobs) and Dave Turnbull, the company’s Bid Team Manager. (‘Kit Jones’ and ‘Dave Turnbull’ are pseudonyms.)



Since its launch in 1948, the UK National Health Service (NHS) has grown to become the world’s largest publicly funded health service. It was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all. With some exceptions, the NHS remains free at point of use and currently serves over 63 million people. It deals with over one million patients every 36 hours.



The NHS employs more than 1.7 million people, with just under half being clinically qualified. Globally, only the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Wal-Mart, and Indian Railways employ more people. The Department of Health had begun to realise that its traditional recruiting methods were increasingly inadequate.


By 2002, the Department of Health knew that its approach to recruitment was unsustainable. It went out to tender for a company to build it a ‘national e-recruitment system’, offering a central location where it could advertise and process vacancies.



This case relates to two of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom: England and Wales.

Key quote

‘We could really disrupt this market, which is ripe for commoditisation – just the sort of thing that platforms are good at! And we really have nothing to lose – no existing market share, nothing – which makes it doubly attractive.’ – Kit Jones, Director of Methods Group’s public sector practice (creators of NHS Jobs)

What next?

In 2012, following the successful operation of NHS Jobs for almost a decade, the original contract was due to expire and the Department of Health issued a new procurement notice. The NHS Jobs team had six weeks to develop an alternative business model that would be superior to the existing one.

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The author


Mark Thompson

Mark explains his personal involvement with NHS Jobs and discusses the benefits of ‘following the risk’.

Inspirational protagonists

NHS Jobs was actually conceived and run by a company I work for and co-own, and I was part of the project team that bid the initial concept into the Department of Health. The main protagonists were inspirational: as an SME engaging with an organisation as large as the Department of Health it took a huge amount of energy and conviction to convince them that we were arguing for the right solution – especially as they had already decided on an alternative, more traditional approach.

Tightly managed

We ran a tightly-managed ‘bid centre’ throughout the final stages of this bid, and during the final week the team stayed over locally in hotels and worked almost around the clock. This took energy, forensic attention to detail, and above all conviction that our ‘non-compliant’ model was the right one – and that it would win out in the end.

Global similarities

NHS7Large government departments around the world share the characteristics of risk aversion, as well as a legacy of established ways of doing things – often embedded in relationships with large suppliers, technologies, and outsourced processes. Therefore, although the NHS is seen as a ‘special’ part of the UK’s national infrastructure, as a business problem it’s similar to, and resonates with, people’s experiences from other countries.

Eureka moment

I’ve learned that ‘following the risk’ can be a great catalyst for thinking ‘out of the box’. In this case, the technology was actually a sideshow; the real risk was persuading the UK’s Department of Health to completely change the way they ran their recruitment activities. Our ‘eureka moment’ was the realisation that procuring a piece of technology leaves you with just that: a piece of technology: the risk of achieving no beneficial business change remained exactly the same. 

Widely applicable

The case holds implications for any market sector where organisations run expensive and inefficient business processes whose origins are probably forgotten, but which actually prevent them from delivering an effective and efficient service. It shows the benefits of a rigorous approach to separating what is core to the business (in the case of the NHS, clinical activities), and what is non-core (in this case, recruitment). Finally, it’s a classic example of what ‘digital transformation’ can achieve.

About the author

Mark Thompson is a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at University of Cambridge Judge Business School.
e m.thompson@jbs.cam.ac.uk


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