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Michael Wood: NHS and councils must tackle skills problem together

Michael Wood
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Ask any NHS leader to name their biggest concern and, out of a pretty long list, they will probably say the workforce.

Ask any local economic leader the same question and they will probably say skills provision. So why then are we not more joined up locally?

Workforce planning in the NHS is one of those areas resembling an industry within an industry; nationally driven, hugely complicated and seemingly always behind the curve. Because of this central focus, the service has traditionally prioritised the training of its mobile clinical professionals, meaning the bridge between NHS trusts and universities is, by and large, a strong one.

However, what about the 40% of the NHS’ 1.3m staff who are not clinical? What about those aspiring to clinical roles who won’t go to university? What about people who can’t or won’t move to different parts of the country for a new job?

From recent conversations across England, I worry at the time the service most needs domestic supply there exists a fracture between NHS trusts and local skills provision. Not universally, perhaps, but let’s take the 2015 area review process of post-16 education and training as an example. The one NHS HR director I met who was familiar with their area review had heard about it by chance through their role as a governor on a local college. This particular review didn’t much mention health either.

It is this same central focus that prioritises current operational demand over strategic skills development; more workforce repairing than workforce planning.

Whether or not health is seen as a growth sector locally, the sheer size of its workforce and its importance as an underpinning base for other sectors means many combined and local authorities, mayors and local enterprise partnerships will want to address the associated local skills challenges that exist, ideally in partnership with social care. Where will they start?

Every sustainability and transformation partnership should have a local workforce action board, which will bring together all health and care commissioners and providers across the regional footprint to focus on the workforce needs. Their strategies need to reflect and link to local skills for growth agreements. I would expect there to be strong areas of overlap, most likely focused on some of the questions I asked earlier.

Greater devolution of powers and funding for skills is widely acknowledged as an essential ingredient of a healthy and prosperous local economy. An inability to truly integrate health and care into local skills planning would leave a gaping hole in our dreams of delivering public service reform.

Michael Wood, NHS local growth advisor, NHS Confederation, @NHSLocalGrowth

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