HSJ readers are urged to participate in the consultation on creating a workforce for the new NHS, says Department of Health director general of workforce Clare Chapman.

Patients and communities want responsive services that meet their needs and to achieve this we need the best planned and best trained healthcare workforce.

We are not just talking about training in technical skills - but about embedding in all staff the core NHS values of respect, dignity, compassion and the belief that everyone has the right to be treated equally.

The report from the heath service ombudsman on the poor treatment of elderly people in some hospital settings showed how the service fails when staff do not demonstrate these core values at all times.

This is why the proposed changes to the system of healthcare education and training, out for consultation now, are so important - and must be considered carefully.

This is a golden opportunity to review and fundamentally reshape the whole system for workforce planning so that it can support the reforms and engage higher education, local authorities, social care providers, and health and wellbeing boards in developing education.

The proposed system reflects the ambition of the white paper reforms. The new workforce planning, training and education structure will give employers greater autonomy for planning and developing the workforce.

The aim is for a new simplified workforce, training and education system, driven by patient need and led by local healthcare providers.

We want to design a system that plans the healthcare workforce in a way that better aligns with service provision and financial planning.

Such a system would ensure we have sufficient numbers of appropriately skilled staff and a flexible workforce that can respond to the needs of patients. But we need to remember that the new system must also deliver a diverse workforce, working in multi-professional teams, that has equitable access to education, training and opportunities to progress.

We propose a formal duty compelling all providers of NHS services to collaborate on training and education - this would be a pre-condition of securing any NHS-funded contracts. All providers would become members of a local healthcare provider skills network, a forum for co-operation on the planning and provision of training placements.

We currently spend £5bn a year on educating the healthcare workforce. The funding is based on historical funding flows and varies across England. It is complicated and can be confusing. We need to make it transparent so everyone knows what is being funded and how the funding flows.

The government is committed to introducing tariffs for education and training that will provide incentives and minimise transaction costs.

We want healthcare providers to take responsibility for the funding development of their existing workforce - the central budget should only fund education and training for the next generation of clinical staff.

Further transparency will be achieved through a levy on providers to align funding and incentives to secure skills supply, without chronic shortages or significant over-supply.

But any transition to tariffs for clinical education must provide stability, is fair, and minimises the risks to providers. This includes deciding what should be funded from a central education and training levy and the appropriate pace at which to progress this.

Name the incentive

The proposals raise a number of issues, and this is where we need your input.

Success relies on effective partnership between providers and universities, colleges and other education providers - but how do we make sure these are developed? What incentives would ensure cooperation, coherence, and consultation? 

We need healthcare providers to take on greater ownership and responsibility for developing the workforce. The proposal is that healthcare providers set up “skills networks” that can enter into legally binding contracts. Are there other functions that they need to provide?

There is much to be considered, not least the governance of the future system.  

And finally, but importantly, how do we measure success? How do we ensure that the system can provide the best planned, best trained and best educated healthcare workforce in England? The Department of Health has been seeking the views of a wide range of staff, their representative bodies, providers, and educators using regional workshops and other engagement vehicles. There are two weeks left for you to input.

How the proposed system could operate

  • The NHS Commissioning Board and commissioning consortia will define the future service and financial framework so that workforce planning can reflect strategic commissioning intentions;
  • Health Education England, a new expert organisation supporting public health and bringing together healthcare providers, the professions, patients and staff, will combine profession-specific insights and interests with an overarching approach;
  • Healthcare providers will be at the centre of planning and developing the workforce, in consultation with patients. Their decisions will inform education and training commissioning. They will need to create and own local skills networks;
  • Higher education institutions will work with healthcare providers;
  • The professions will have a lead role in ensuring quality and continuous improvement and development in education and training nationally;
  • Professional regulators will set standards for education and training;
  • Incentives for quality and value through quality metrics, a tariff system where funding follows the student in education programmes and clinical placements, and a levy to secure funding for the future;
  • The Centre for Workforce Intelligence will provide consistent information and guidance on risks and opportunities.

How to take part

It is important that we take into account a wide range of views before we implement any changes.

Read the consultation ‘Liberating the NHS:  Developing the Healthcare Workforce’.

Responses can be completed online here.

The consultation closes on 31 March 2011.