Mabel Simms and Steven Shackleford explain how healthcare providers are building stronger relationships with the universities that train their workforce

The NHS and universities have been undergoing major changes in recent years, with both becoming increasingly financially savvy and sensitive to market needs.

The two institutions are clearly interdependent. The NHS needs universities to provide training for nurses, midwives and all professions allied to medicine. Universities are in turn dependent on the NHS to purchase courses run by them.

This relationship involves much strategic planning and organisation, as providers (universities) have to be sensitive to market needs (the NHS). Similarly, purchasers need to be aware of services that are available so they can be purchased effectively and efficiently. If the NHS and universities are to achieve their aims, they must work collaboratively, especially given the government's emphasis on joint working between higher education institutions and other organisations.

Case study

One example of effective collaboration is the Service by Design programme at Birmingham City University, which has spread awareness of the university's capacity to develop strategic relationships and work collaboratively. Under the programme, academic staff from all faculties were appointed to work as mentors in several different projects, for different organisations.

The initiative and funds for the programme came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England's strategic development fund.

One strand of the programme saw a mentor from the faculty of health and another from the business school working together with a charitable trust that provides support for people with alcohol and drug problems. Though the two mentors came from very different backgrounds - nursing and midwifery and auditing and financial management - together, they produced a sound analysis of the organisation's strengths and weaknesses and identified strategies that could be implemented to improve services to its customers.