Finding innovative local solutions to national workforce challenges

Georgia Butterworth profile picture

07 September 2017

Georgia Butterworth
Policy officer


When we think about the NHS being under pressure, workforce challenges immediately spring to mind. In our July State of the NHS provider sector report well over half of trust leaders (57%) were “worried” or “very worried” about their current ability to maintain the right numbers of staff – both clinical and non-clinical – to deliver high-quality care. And we now have a well-evidenced narrative around the particular set of workforce issues affecting the NHS provider sector.

Although the NHS in England has a greater number of clinical staff than ever before, trusts up and down the country are straining to fill the gap created by increases in patient demand for services that are outpacing the workforce pipeline and the funding the NHS has been given to employ staff. These staff shortages risk making the job for the current workforce undoable as more and more is asked of them. As the job gets harder and pay falls in real terms, trusts are struggling to recruit and retain enough staff with the right skills to deliver high quality care. Uncertainty caused by Brexit adds the finishing touch to this difficult national picture.

Well over half of trust leaders (57%) were “worried” or “very worried” about their current ability to maintain the right numbers of staff – both clinical and non-clinical – to deliver high-quality care.

Georgia Butterworth    Policy officer

 

Tackling local problems

And yet, in the face of all this adversity, individual trusts are successfully tackling local problems in different, place-based and tailor-made ways. Given the muddled approach to workforce strategy at a national level, trusts are taking it upon themselves to secure a current and future workforce that is equipped to work in new ways to deal with the increasingly complex needs of patients.

The cumulative momentum of these innovative local programmes has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting the workforce challenges trusts face. The workforce strand at our annual conference will be an opportunity for some of those trusts at the forefront of innovation to share their progress, experience and learning.

Our conference strand session on what trusts are doing locally will explore how they can grow their own staff and deliver their own training courses. There is genuine concern about the national supply of nurses and doctors not meeting demand, as well as a rising worry that the health care sector is over-reliant on higher education for a sustainable and adequate pipeline of clinical staff.

Our workforce strand at our annual conference will be an opportunity for some of those trusts at the forefront of innovation to share their progress, experience and learning.

Georgia Butterworth    Policy officer

Recent data suggests that the NHS bursary reform has not resulted in a greater number of students starting a nursing degree in 2017, primarily due to the fact that the government did not release funding for clinical placements in time for universities and trusts to expand training places. In this context, trusts are increasingly partnering with local universities to develop innovative ways of training students as well as their existing staff.

After all, the health care sector is first and foremost a people business, with patients and frontline staff at its core. In recent years the NHS as a whole has worked hard to engage more and better with patients and its workforce. Research has shown that good levels of staff engagement are closely linked to higher quality care for patients.

Healthcare is first and foremost a people business, with patients and frontline staff at its core.

Georgia Butterworth    Policy officer

The key finding of the CQC’s recent report Driving improvement was that empowering staff leads to significant improvements in the quality of care provided and, in correlation, the trusts’ staff survey results improved. At the national level the most recent staff survey suggested some improvements in staff engagement, but there are still cultural problems that must be addressed locally.

In addition, NHS data shows that work-life balance is one of the main reasons health care staff leave the NHS and the NMC also recently published data showing that nurses are leaving the NHS primarily due to working conditions such as staffing levels or workload.

It is clear that work pressure has increased retention problems and, although a big part of this is due to the fundamental mismatch between what the NHS is being asked to do and the resources it has been given, trusts also have a role to play in making themselves great places to work as the direct employers of NHS staff. Our conference session will provide an opportunity to hear more about the impressive work trusts are doing to recruit and retain the staff they need to deliver safe, excellent care.

 

Workforce transformation

Given the national focus on the transformation of service delivery, the integration of health and care, and organisations working together as systems, there is also a pressing need to consider the workforce transformation required to deliver new care models. Teams are becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and mobile as they work across service boundaries. By changing the skill mix of existing roles and teams, and supporting the development of new roles, trusts have been able to bring about effective changes in quality of care, productivity and cross-sector working. For this reason skill mix has now been identified as part of the response to current staff shortages and our conference strand session will highlight examples of best practice. 

By changing the skill-mix of existing roles and teams, and supporting the development of new roles, trusts have been able to bring about effective changes in quality of care, productivity and cross-sector working.

Georgia Butterworth    Policy officer

Our breakout session on what trusts are doing locally will be a rich opportunity for delegates to share, discuss and take away ideas to support their own trusts. The wider workforce strand will also focus on finding solutions to workforce challenges at a national level and ensuring there are enough leaders at all levels of the system to tackle these issues.

  

We are developing a new workforce report which will look at solutions to these challenges to be published at our annual conference and exhibition on 7-8 November in Birmingham. To find out more, visit http://nhsproviders.org/courses-events/annual-events/annual-conference-and-exhibition-2017

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