NHS aims for a learning culture

Burke looks at how the NHSis opening up training to 250,000 staff across the
whole organisation

Everyone from hospital porters to specialists will get the
chance to better themselves as Europe’s largest training investor aims to
become a model employer.

Under the NHS corporate university’s (NHSU) five-year plan, more than
250,000 employees across all strata of the health service will be able to
receive training and earn qualifications in subsidised learning groups and
online modules.

Launched on 11 December 2003, the NHSU aims to create a learning culture
within the health service by 2008. The strategy underscores the fact that many
NHS employees are unimpressed with the quality of training they currently
receive, despite the England-wide price tag of £3bn a year.

The strategy will promote online training so that people can upgrade their
skills during gaps in their workdays rather than having to arrange cover before
trekking off to remote training sites. Staff will also be able to share
concerns and problems via online learning group discussion boards and live

For the first time in the service’s history, staff at all levels within the
service will learn side by side, helping to break down hierarchies and healing
departmental rifts.

Studies by the NHSU revealed that about 40 per cent of clerical and
administrative staff had been denied learning opportunities throughout their
tenure in the NHS, so the plan aims to be more inclusive.

Bob Abberley, a non-executive member of the NHSU board and assistant general
secretary of public sector union Unison, said the NHSU’s bottom-up approach to
education means that doctors and nurses will no longer get the lion’s share of
educational opportunities. "Those who have the most qualifications get the
most training," he said.

"But the NHSU is set up so that people coming off New Deal into NHS
support roles become interested in learning and get on the skills escalator to
become the professionals of tomorrow. It’s introducing the idea that whether
you’re a doctor or a domestic, you need some of the same sort of training – for
example, on dealing with patients or health and safety."

The learning culture will start on an employee’s first day. In a national
induction programme designed to complement local inductions, recruits will be
primed on the NHS and where they fit into it, as well as the importance of
communication skills and learning. For example, a secretary who is starting
work in a mental health unit would learn how to deal with schizophrenic

"We want to focus on bottom-up training so that there’s a motivating
force for all people," said Catherine Hastings, another member of the
executive board.

More than 60 trusts have now signed up to the programme, and a further 50
are expected to join by the end of the year, until all of the 140,000 annual
NHS recruits are streamed into the programme.

Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust will be among the first
to pilot the induction programme.

NHSU and clinical leadership facilitator Jayne Toplis hopes it will help
develop its staff across the board.

"Being involved in the pilot gives us a real chance to shape NHS
education and training, and by encouraging a learning culture that values
staff, we can provide a better quality service," Toplis said.

The NHSU portion of the induction gives staff the big picture on working for
the NHS so they can think beyond their current roles and local employers,
Toplis believes.

The Association of Healthcare Human Resource Managers (AHHRM), which enjoys
a close strategic relationship with the university, is enthusiastic because the
NHSU should prove a valuable HR tool.

In theory, it saves HR professionals having to update their own induction
programmes and should help them achieve their goals under the NHS plan.

"Although the NHSU won’t immediately help HR managers meet their
targets under the Investing in Working Lives scheme, it will help HR meet the
next stage in the targets," said AHHRM vice-president Peter King. "If
you’ve got to provide lifelong learning to your employees, any training
available on a national level will take a bit of the burden off us."

As part of the 12-strong first tranche of training programmes, there will be
a post-graduate qualification in first contact so that nurses, paramedics and
allied healthcare professionals can diagnose and treat minor health problems
without deferring to a doctor.

Another popular innovation is foundation degrees, which open up career
opportunities to staff with no formal qualifications. Hospital porters, health-
or social-care assistants and women returners with five years’ service can,
from September, enrol on a foundation degree course to become a nurse or

"We support basic skills learning," King said. "About 30 per
cent of people working in health and social services don’t have qualifications
because hospital portering and care assistant jobs are becoming more complex as
healthcare becomes more technical."

The Department of Health has seed-funded the NHSU £30m for 2003-2004, rising
to £80m in 2004-2005. Once each programme is developed, employers – and in some
cases the learners themselves – will be expected to cover fees. It is hoped
that learning and skills councils will contribute to junior employees’ fees.

Although the NHSU covers only England, learners across the rest of the UK
will be able to access the programmes if they wish, pending discussions with
devolved administrations.

NHSU factfile

Among the NHSU’s initial programmes

– "Working for the NHS" induction programme

– First contact care – post-graduate diploma

– Two management courses

– Advanced communication for cancer care

– Cleaning and infection control

– Foundation degrees for long-servers

– Junior scholarships – for socially excluded teenagers to
enter the sector

NHSU fact file

Training timelines and targets:

– March 2004 NHSU to have evaluated the success of various
pilot courses focused on urgent training needs

– March 2007 Framework for cross-professional, team-based skills
in place

– March 2008 Vibrant learning culture created within health and
social care

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