• Chief executive pledges to invest in staff education and training and wants to see CPD funding increase further
  • HEE’s workforce strategy will align with the long term plan for the NHS but still be a standalone document, Ian Cumming confirms
  • Offering flexibility to staff is key in boosting retention, which is “single biggest issue”

Health Education England will be asking for new money to allow it to tackle widespread workforce shortages in the NHS, its chief executive has told HSJ.

In an exclusive interview, Ian Cumming said the £5bn arm’s length body was having conversations about funding with the Department of Health and Social Care and will be “seeking to get whatever resource we can as part of our settlement”.

Although Mr Cumming described the £20bn long term funding settlement for NHS England funded care as “fantastic”, he highlighted that HEE, Public Health England and other organisations “haven’t yet had a settlement”.

Following changes to the NHS funding ringfence by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 HEE, along with other arm’s length bodies, has been required to reduce its running costs by 30 per cent.

“One of the things we want to make sure of is in whatever settlement we get, we are able to divert as much of the resource as we are able to into education and training of the existing workforce,” Mr Cumming said. “Retention is probably the single biggest issue that we collectively need to be tackling at the moment.”

When speaking at the NHS Confederation conference last month, Mr Cumming said “serious investment” in the current workforce was needed to “retain them and give them the skills that they need”.

He told HSJ that budgets for continuing professional development would rise in 2018-19 to “somewhere in the region of £90m”.

He admitted CPD funding “won’t be back at the levels we [had] four or five years ago” but added he would like to see it increased further in the coming years.

“It is fantastic to hear the incoming secretary of state talking about workforce and it is great to recognise in his speech last week so many areas we would consider to be top priorities,” Mr Cumming said.

He confirmed HEE’s anticipated workforce strategy would be a “standalone plan” but would also be “completely aligned with what is happening in terms of service strategy for the future.

“We made a conscious decision it would be wrong to publish a final workforce strategy in advance of the 10 year plan for the NHS. We want to make sure that the workforce strategy meshes together with the 10 year plan.”

The draft strategy was criticised when it was published last year for lacking detailed modelling, but Mr Cumming said the final strategy would “predict what the likely demand is going to be for care and what the likely workforce is”.

HEE is working towards publication of the strategy by November this year.

In response to the workforce consultation announced by new health secretary Matt Hancock earlier this month, Mr Cumming said he would welcome “continuing the conversation with people who are working for the NHS or will be in the future about what would make it the employer of choice for them”.

He acknowledged that funding for professional development is important for retention, but he also emphasised the need for staff to work flexibly.

“Building more flexibility into shifts is something we are hearing time after time, from nurses in particular,” he said.

He also hinted at entering arrangements with other countries, such as Australia, to enable the younger workforce to work abroad after qualifying and then return.

Other points discussed by Ian Cumming include:

  • He is keen that the flexibility offered by bank working is available more generally, but emphasised this work isn’t being led by HEE.
  • He also said the NHS needs to focus on initiatives like return to practice and international recruitment.
  • He confirmed HEE is talking to the Office of Students around what can be done to protect vulnerable courses, such as podiatry and learning disability nursing.