Ministers must provide more detail on their plans to reform health education and training to avoid service disruption and putting patients at risk, the health select committee has warned.
In their report on health education, training and workforce planning, the MPs said the Department of Health needed to give more “clarity” about how new bodies will function. They questioned how Health Education England will be held to account and how work with local education and training boards.
The report said: “It is unsatisfactory that so much about the boards still remains vague and indeterminate.” It called for more “precision” on how postgraduate deaneries will operate in the new system.
Committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said: “We are concerned about this apparent lack of urgency and we believe that failure to address these issues quickly will lead to risk for patients and confusion for staff.”
MPs also said workforce planning in the past had had been characterised by “boom and bust”, with alternating oversupply and undersupply of trained staff.
They welcomed the role of the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, which will now analyse and interpret data for workforce planning in the NHS, and said providers must face penalties for not providing it with data.
The government “must act to safeguard” the NHS £5bn training budget against regional bodies “raid[ing] budgets…as they have done before”.
Responding to the report, public health minister Anne Milton said: “This report welcomes our plans to change the current education and training system to make it clearer, fairer and with a greater focus on quality. It is good to see that the health select committee recognises the need for change.
“We are now moving ahead to reform the education and training system…and we will be setting out details of their remit and how they will operate. We know that this detail will make sure that our plans deliver the change we want to see.”
The committee also argued for professional regulation of healthcare assistants as “the best assurance to patients” and less reliance on locum and agency staff.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Peter Carter said mandatory regulation for HCAs was vital to patient safety.
He added: “We have been saying for some time that the government needs to be clearer about how it intends to deliver the right level of training and education to ensure we have a workforce that is able to meet the changing health needs of the population.”
He said he was concerned medical education would dominate HEE, adding he feared a shortage of nurses in future years.
Sue Slipman, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, said the current education and training system was not providing the skill mix and flexibility that the future health service needed. “This is all part of a new health system that needs fresh thinking in training and education – and a system that gives employers the scope to make it happen,” she said.
Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers described the existing education and training system as “notoriously complex”, arguing the planning system for medical workforce was “disconnected” from future patient needs.
He said: “We need to make sure we start with patients and consider the entire workforce in our planning. The NHS is making seismic changes to the way it offers care. In future, we need to provide more community services and offer more care at home. This will mean big changes for staff.”
But he repeated opposition to regulating HCAs, arguing regulation itself would not drive standards. He said: “We should work on areas that we know will give big patient improvements like recruitment, culture, leadership, standards and training before we embark on mandatory regulation.”