this week

Workforce planning boards aimed at ensuring the NHS has enough staff to meet future patient demand were set up this week, nearly eight months after the date on which the government announced they would start work.

The boards are the result of a review of workforce planning recommended by the House of Commons health select committee in 1999.

Their formation was announced in the planning document Investment and Reform for NHS Staff - taking forward the NHS plan, issued in February 2001.

The document detailed the regional workforce development confederations, which started work, as planned, in April.

It also announced a National Workforce Development Board and Care Group Workforce Teams to be operational by April, as well as a Workforce Numbers Advisory Board.

The National Workforce Development Board, which will co-ordinate workforce issues facing the NHS, and the Workforce Numbers Advisory Board, which will advise on training commissions for all staff groups, have now been established.

The care group workforce teams, which will focus on the workforce requirements for seven clinical areas, have also now been set up.

They will cover mental health, coronary heart disease, cancer, older people, children, emergency care and long-term conditions.

Health minister John Hutton said they would 'identify new ways in which the skills and competencies needed by staff can be delivered'.

NHS Confederation human resources policy manager Alistair Henderson said: 'We are generally supportive of this. It is a recognition that the health service hadn't been very good about workforce planning in the past. It does appear to have got a grip on the issues that are there.

'There is a huge job to be done. The health service needs to be much smarter about how it plans.'

But he said the initial timetable was 'probably over-optimistic'.