TRAINING Chief executive laments body's struggle against uncertainty

Published: 17/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 10

Most of the functions of the NHSU, the body that offers learning and training opportunities to NHS staff, are expected to be devolved to strategic health authorities under recommendations for the future of the soon-to-be-defunct body.

The report, drawn up by a 'transition team' led by Dorset and Somerset SHA chief executive Sir Ian Carruthers, is due to land on ministers' desks this week.

It recommends that the new National Institute for Learning, Skills and Innovation takes on Modernisation Agency work while learning and skills are devolved to SHAs.

It follows months of uncertainty for staff of the NHSU and the Modernisation Agency, with which the NHSU was merged under the Department of Health review of arm's length bodies.

HSJ understands that Unison is considering a legal challenge against the government under the Health and Social Care Act 2001 for failing to consult patients and the public on the future of the NHSU.

Staff feelings about how the organisation has been treated by both the government and some senior NHS managers were recently reflected in a farewell e-mail to staff from Professor Bob Fryer, outgoing NHSU chief executive and now Department of Health czar charged with widening participation in learning.

In the e-mail - seen by HSJ - Professor Fryer says he accepted the new position with 'mixed feelings' after 'much discussion and negotiation'. He laments the organisation's struggle to deliver a 'great and bold initiative by the government' against a backdrop of 'continuing and disturbing circumstances of review and debilitating uncertainty... from the day we were launched as a special health authority'.

He calls on staff to 'be determined' to ensure the achievements of NHSU are not 'merely lost, forgotten, scattered or squandered'.

Professor Fryer says that if the services NHSU has developed with 'substantial public investment' are 'jettisoned, written off or abandoned, that would be a public scandal and a waste of public money'.

He continues that he takes up his new post 'with some sadness and regret' and fires a shot across the bows of perceived enemies, stating that 'it is also important and sobering to remember and record that not everyone wanted NHSU to succeed'.

Professor Fryer was last month replaced by an interim chief executive Philip Brown, who was previously North West London workforce development confederation chief executive.

Unison-sponsored Labour MP Michael Meacher has tabled an earlyday motion and has raised the matter with health minister John Hutton, warning against the NHSU being replaced with 'a widget development and testing centre' and asking that 'any new body charged with staff training... retains both the scope and ambition of the NHSU'.