NHS reveals new workforce plan to become ‘agile, inclusive and modern’

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The NHS in England has today published its interim People Plan, which sets out proposals for the future of the NHS workforce.

The focus is on creating a more positive and agile culture across NHS employers in England, and proposals include a new leadership development framework, better flexible working options and more flexibility on how pension contributions are accrued.

It follows on from its Long Term Plan published in January, which set out a 10-year vision of healthcare in England.

Developed in partnership with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, managers and staff, the People Plan sets out how the NHS workforce will deliver on this vision and the immediate actions it needs to take.

It says: “We need to promote positive cultures, build a pipeline of compassionate and engaging leaders and make the NHS an agile, inclusive and modern employer if we are to attract and retain the people we need to deliver our plans.” Workforce planning, it adds, needs to be at the centre of its overall planning processes.

It acknowledges that health workers want to have more flexible careers and better work-life balance, as well as find more efficient ways of working to meet the growing demands on the service.

The plan covers five key themes:

  • Making the NHS the best place to work;
  • Improving leadership culture;
  • Addressing urgent workforce shortages in nursing;
  • Delivering 21st century care; and
  • A new operating model for the workforce.

The aim is to publish a more detailed five-year NHS workforce plan following the government’s next spending review, which will establish how much budget is available.

One of the immediate actions NHS England will take is to develop a new employee ‘offer’ that will set out the support workers can expect “from the NHS as a modern employer”. This will be constructed following extensive engagement with staff, union representatives and individual employers across England.

It will also commission an independent review of HR and OD practice in the NHS and look at how to bring this in line “with the best of the public and private sectors”.

On leadership, it calls for the establishment of a set of agreed competencies of senior leaders, and an end to the “revolving door” culture where underperforming leaders “are quietly moved elsewhere in the NHS, facilitated by ‘vanilla’ references”.

This will include a new leadership ‘compact’ to establish the cultural values and leadership behaviours expected from NHS leaders, and the support they can expect in return. Its graduate management training scheme will also be expanded, from 200 to 500 participants.

To address shortages in the nursing ranks, the NHS has outlined plans to grow the number of people coming into nursing and midwifery degrees, as well as the expansion of clinical placements to offer training and experience for these recruits.

Recruitment campaigns will focus on those areas with the greatest need, including a new campaign to attract returners to nursing through the parenting website Mumsnet. NHS England will continue to recruit internationally, and will develop a national procurement framework for international recruitment agencies.

NHS England said it will recruit more than 20,000 new staff across primary care networks; almost 6,500 staff into children and young people’s mental health services; 25,000 staff into mental health services overall; more than 4,000 specialists in areas such as radiology and cancer nursing; and more than 10,000 staff to meet the needs of the growing ageing population.

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The NHS also wants to boost the number of doctors working in primary care by 5,000, and improve retention of general practitioners and other clinical staff through better mentoring and coaching. Portfolio working could become an option to offer GPs more flexibility at different stages in their careers.

To support those coming into the profession, the NHS has said it will provide better support for junior doctors at the start of their career, as well as offer options for doctors to step out and step back into training without having to start again.

Flexible working for all NHS workers will increase through “technology and a change in people practices”, it said. This will include in-house staff banks, enabled by technology, that will offer more opportunities for people to work flexibly.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the interim plan but said it would need to be backed by investment in the next government spending review.

“We are delighted the plan responds so positively to our call for a much greater role for local leaders in workforce development,” he said.

“There is though a need for a much greater alignment with social care. We have to concede that any steps the NHS takes to strengthen its workforce position may unintentionally risk further weakening the social care workforce. We do not need two plans – we need one.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, added: “This is a further step forward following last year’s significant investment in pay for our teams, and brings greater focus to the issues that must be addressed in relation to our workforce.

“However, investment is required to incentivise more people to train to be nurses either through undergraduate or apprenticeship routes: employers look forward to this investment for the final plan later this year.”

In 2018, an NHS Staff Survey revealed low levels of engagement among NHS workers, with many employees feeling overstretched or experiencing bullying and harassment.

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