NHS trusts must develop stronger relationships with education so that discussion of the benefits of an NHS career becomes a normal part of primary and secondary school education, writes Danny Mortimer
The future of the NHS is a much-discussed topic.
One key area for all NHS leaders are the ongoing workforce challenges. There are a number of urgent steps we have argued for at NHS Employers, but I believe more discussion needs to be centred on long-term workforce supply.
Looking beyond the next few years, what does the future workforce of the NHS look like and what more do we need to do now to assure that future?
Over the last few years, a lot of work has taken place at a local employer and place level to improve long-term supply by reaching out to students and young adults in communities. NHS organisations have focused on community engagement as a proactive part of their attraction and recruitment workforce supply strategies.
This includes work experience programmes, pre-employment programmes, traineeships, internships, apprenticeships and targeted engagement, for example getting involved in yearly healthcare science week celebrations.
Inspiration for young people
These are all really positive steps, which have yielded results, but I believe it’s important we also start talking to young people earlier by forming strong relationships nationally and locally between the NHS and schools.
The future of the NHS relies on the children of today becoming the healthcare team of tomorrow. Young people need to be inspired. And as many colleagues can testify, by working with schools, we have a real opportunity to do this.
Startling HEE research showed that children as young as seven believe that that men are doctors and women are nurses. We need to show these kids that gender or background need not hold them back from any role in our teams, and we need of course to also make sure that the reality of working for the NHS does not discriminate either
Health Education England’s “Step into the NHS” programme includes a creative competition that aims to educate children on the breadth of roles in the NHS and is this year celebrating its 10th anniversary. Thousands of children have taken part from over 500 schools and I have had the honour of judging the competition on several occasions from its genesis within NHS Employers to its current home at Health Education England.
Every year, I am amazed by the creativity and passion shown by the young people entering and just what a difference it makes to their views of the NHS and its career options. It is a great reminder of how much we can offer young people in terms of rewarding careers.
For example, Margarita Spektor entered the competition with her classmates in 2012-13 and she has gone on to study biomedical sciences, partly as a result, she says, of the competition opening up her eyes to the range of medical careers beyond becoming a doctor.
Her group’s entry has just been chosen by HEE as the winner of winners, marking a decade of the competition.
For the first time, the programme is now being rolled out in primary schools with a focus on challenging gender stereotypes of health professions. Startling HEE research showed that children as young as seven believe that that men are doctors and women are nurses.
We need to show these kids that gender or background need not hold them back from any role in our teams, and we need of course to also make sure that the reality of working for the NHS does not discriminate either.
I would encourage as many schools to participate as possible and for NHS trusts to develop stronger relationships with education so that discussion of the benefits of NHS careers becomes a normal part of primary and secondary school education and careers services.
The competition might well be the chance an NHS organisation wants to take to forge links with their local schools.
The NHS cannot dream or will a workforce into existence either in the short or long term. Whilst programmes like “Step into the NHS” are not the sole answer – they are part of the solution to the workforce problems we face. Of course, we also need the organisations sitting under the collective NHS umbrella to work together to deliver our common goal of securing long term membership of our teams.
The NHS needs to be supported from the outside too. As well as the coordinated action on workforce envisaged by the long-term plan, we need other parts of government to offer their support to our global workforce, our apprentices and our pension scheme members.
We also need to see careers in social care achieve the same attention with the same level of long-term commitment, investment and planning.