comment: Fledgling institution has still to prove its worth to those it serves

Published: 16/09/2004, Volume II4, No. 5923 Page 15

Sir William Wells' review of NHSU, the NHS's corporate 'university', is likely to result in major changes to the way it operates, and many of its critics will be cheered to hear it.

The measured language in staff memos written by chief executive Bob Fryer and seen by HSJ make it clear that staff should prepare for significant upheaval and uncertainty (news, pages 4-5). As the memo says, NHSU will need to look at its focus, delivery and relationship with the NHS - in short, at almost everything it does.

The attitude of strategic health authorities to NHSU's work varies greatly. Some have been very supportive while other SHA chief executives are openly dismissive of its mission and methods. It is the SHAs that now hold many of the levers of power and it seems that NHSU has found them to be much more exacting clients than it expected.

An organisation with a manifestly good cause - and provision of education and development to all levels of the NHS workforce is undoubtedly that - can sometimes be lulled into believing that selling its role is a done deal. In reality there is still great scepticism about NHSU's ability to deliver.

The Wells review may be a blessing in disguise for the fledgling organisation. It might be painful to be subjected to such close scrutiny so early from the Department of Health's 'sponsor' John Bacon, but work now could ensure that its credibility does not disappear before the organisation has time to prove itself.