Former junior health minister David Lammy, now skills minister, tells HSJ about his plans for a more skilled healthcare workforce

HSJ: During your lifetime, how do you think skills needs have changed in the healthcare sector?

David Lammy: In keeping with the whole economy, skills needs in the healthcare sector have become crucial to delivering a high class service. Healthcare is looking to improve productivity to enable it to function more efficiently, but can only do that if its workforce has adequate skill levels and if all of the workforce fulfils its potential. We must rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities that our rapidly changing world presents if we are to secure the healthcare service we all desire.

Do you agree that within healthcare all skills at all levels are important and that it is more critical to have the right people with the right skills in the right place than in any other sector?

Skills needs in the healthcare sector have changed to reflect patients' needs. New ways of working, new treatments and procedures and the shift of more services into the community reflect patient choice and require a health workforce that has the right skills for the new healthcare environment.

You are on record talking about the "unprecedented opportunities that the global marketplace presents". How do you think globalisation could affect the NHS, independent and voluntary healthcare sectors in the UK?

Globalisation is an opportunity for the UK health service. We can use it to enhance the health service by widening the scope for innovation and taking on good practice from around the world and taking advantage of global expertise.

You have also spoken about "the remarkable changes that can happen when people embrace learning". Do you have any examples?

I would emphasise how important it is for every single person to embrace learning; how it can lead to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. For example, evidence suggests that people with level 1 numeracy earn 6-10 per cent more than those with numeracy skills below this level. Someone with a level 2 qualification earns on average around£100,000 more over their lifetime than an otherwise similar person who leaves learning with below level 2 qualifications.

Someone with a level 3 earns on average around£85,000 more over their lifetime than a similar person who leaves learning with level 2 qualifications. Someone with an advanced apprenticeship (level 3) earns on average around£100,000 more over their lifetime than someone with level 2 qualifications.

The average graduate earns on average around£100,000 more in their life than an otherwise similar person with a level 3.

You regularly outline your vision about the "jobs of tomorrow". What will they look like in the healthcare sector?

As healthcare changes, and new drugs and technology offer new ways to treat patients, the role of all NHS staff is changing and we are seeing the development of roles that cut across professional boundaries - including doctors. Many existing professionals are taking on additional tasks associated with special interests.

These roles enable them to use their skills more appropriately and, with the additional competencies, deal with more complex cases. We must remember that no healthcare professional works in isolation and care is now delivered in different ways by a variety of healthcare professionals. Finally, the aim is to increase capacity and ensure the most appropriate practitioner in the healthcare team gives patients the most appropriate treatment.

What benefits do you believe employers in the healthcare sector will gain by investing in their staff?

Government is doing all it can to shape the skills system around the needs of employers and individual learners. Through the new Commission for Employment and Skills and a reformed network of sector skills councils, employers will be able to exert real leverage over both content and delivery of skills and employment programmes.

Working through their sector skills councils, we are giving employers the leading role in the reform and development of qualifications for their sector. Employers will determine the content of vocational qualifications for their sector, and advise as to which should be priorities for public funding.

We will also make it easier for employers to have their own training programmes accredited.

Employers need to act, too. We encourage all employers to follow the example set by McDonald's, Sainsbury's, Ford and all government departments and make the "skills pledge". Employers who make this pledge will be able to access support - and subsidised training - through the Train to Gain service.

You have urged employers to visit the Train to Gain website and to make the Skills Pledge. What other messages would you like to send out to the healthcare sector employers?

Skills for Health, the Learning and Skills Council and strategic health authorities - with the support of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department of Health - now have a framework in place, with up to£100m annually, to tackle skills gaps and shortages. I would urge all healthcare employers to take advantage of this opportunity.

Skills for Health will have a key role in working with employers to achieve the vision set out by Lord Leitch of a world class skills base, and through this employers can improve productivity and realise benefits for patients.

If sector skills councils are to become the voice of their sectors, we can never be satisfied with what they are doing. They need to fully embrace world class skills. All the work of the councils is important. Skills for Health has a huge agenda; it is vital its sector skills agreements are followed through and sector qualification strategies are introduced.

But, most of all, it is vital that Skills for Health is working to ensure employers and employees get the service which will improve business performance through skilling the workforce.