Specialist members of the NHS workforce must not be sacrificed in order to find efficiency savings, a government advisor and strategic health authority chief executive has warned.

NHS East Midlands chief executive and Department of Healthcommissioning advisor Barbara Hakin told a conference session that productivity could actually suffer if trusts took the approach of using specialists to fill generalist gaps.

For example, an investigation in May by HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times found many trusts across the country had begun requiring clinical nurse specialists to undertake general ward duties.

But Dame Barbara said: “It is absolutely critical that we keep…. individual elements of the workforce doing the things they, and they alone, can do,” she told delegates.

“If we don’t keep those specialisms – whether those specialist skills sit with a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic or a social worker – I think there’s little chance of us having the capacity to deliver what we have to do in the future,” she said.

Dame Barbara described the next few years of tightened finances as a “monumental challenge” for the NHS. She said using the workforce more efficiently was the “number one fundamental way” of increasing overall NHS efficiency, but warned that staff must be supported.

“We’ve got a real responsibility over the next few years to support them through these difficult times, so they have the right skills and the right development…. to do even better than we’re doing now.”

Meanwhile an academic who helped Barack Obama with his presidential election campaign is working with the NHS on an initiative to mobilise frontline staff on improving productivity.

Marshall Ganz, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University who was credited with devising the grassroots organising model for the Obama election campaign in 2008, is helping the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement develop a productivity drive, which is due to get underway next month.

Helen Bevan, the institute’s chief of service transformation, said: “In terms of what we’re trying to achieve in our quality and productivity challenge, the results are going to depend on the extent to which we…. can make an emotional as well as a rational connection to our clinical workforce.”