Exclusive: The recent and continuing surge in new NHS posts for nursing and other frontline roles has been welcomed by health minister Dan Poulter as the “right thing to do” in response to the Mid-Staffordshire scandal.
Trust recruitment drives should not, however, deviate them from eliminating what the government sees as their wasteful procurement practices and use of agency staff, Dr Poulter told HSJ in an exclusive interview.
“I’m pleased workforce numbers have risen,” he said. “That is the right thing to do in response to the terrible events at Mid Staffordshire and has put us into a position we perhaps should have been in before.
“I think there will be over the next few months, quite rightly, an on-going reaction in some trusts to addressing the challenges thrown up by Mid Staffs.
“I imagine some trusts will continue to invest in frontline staff and that is the right thing to do. At the same time it is important there is an on-going drive for efficiency [to] reduce back-office function and administration costs.”
He said decisions on staffing levels remained the responsibility of hospital trusts but that the costs of increasing permanent staff could be found through greater efficiency.
“There is a lot of money wasted in hospital trusts from poor procurement practice for example, poor estate management and poor use of temporary staff. There’s a lot that hospitals can do to find additional money.”
Dr Poulter delivered his assessment of the post-Francis response as he spelled out his plan to overhaul the education and training of NHS staff which will introduce a focus on values such as respect, dignity and compassion.
As reported by HSJ, new recruits to NHS training posts will be expected to pass a “values-based” test as part of a raft of measures which he expects Health Education England to draw up, according to a government mandate issued to the agency this week.
Dr Poulter told HSJ: “The lessons from the terrible events at Mid Staffordshire have to be that the whole purpose of healthcare and being a nurse, a doctor, a healthcare assistant is that you are there to look after patients.
“It is important we continually ensure people who are working in the health service are being recruited, be it at undergraduate or post-graduate level or going into a new job, that those values are constant and continually underpinning everything that anyone does.”
According to the mandate, HEE - which is responsible for commissioning £5bn of healthcare training - will also be expected to help develop training for GPs around mental health, child health and care for older people.
It has also been tasked with tackling inconsistent standards across the university system, Dr Poulter added.
Other changes within the mandate include more flexible standards for healthcare staff to help them work across primary care and secondary care boundaries. All nursing students will be required to carry out a community based placement by 2015.
Dr Poulter said: “If we are going to deliver more care in the community we need to have the multi-disciplinary workforce to do that. The bespoke post-graduate qualifications in elderly care and mental health is a very significant step forward and will help nurses advance their own careers.”
Health Education England will be also be expected to challenge inconsistent standards of training he said.
“We are looking to HEE to have a much stronger role in helping to coordinate the system and driving up and improving the quality of training.
“It is for HEE as commissioner of services if there are concerns, to work with the universities to make sure things are put into a better position. The challenge is to have more consistency across all undergraduate healthcare training.”