NHS European Office

European funds offer an innovative route to investing in our healthcare support workforce | Stephen Welfare

Stephen Welfare

Just over a year ago, I had the privilege of awarding certificates to a group of young people. They had completed a pre-employment programme run by the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Serco and The Prince’s Trust. The audience, a hard core of armour-plated, public service managers, was visibly moved. Why?

This particular group of trainees had come through some of the most difficult setbacks in young life – loss of a parent, homelessness, difficulties with education. Defying all preconceptions, they had shone when given a glimpse of employment in healthcare. 

So that day the hospital gained a rare intake of support staff with the right values and a passion for their work; the community improved its economy; and the NHS fortified its foundations for a future workforce. There is nothing like a plan that comes together to melt even the most resilient healthcare executive.

The Norwich programme is one of the many examples of good practice that informed Health Education England’s Talent for Care, the first ever national strategy for the development of healthcare support staff. In essence, the strategy offers a blueprint for developing the healthcare support workforce. 

Its ten strategic initiatives, presented in three parts – Get in, Get on, Go further – set the challenge to get the right people into the right place to provide better care. This has long been a part of planning for medical, nursing and other professions, but relatively uncharted territory for support staff.

I was proud to be the strategy’s lead director from its beginning in 2013 until its publication in November 2014. My Health Education England colleague, Laura Roberts, is now leading the implementation across the English health and care system. You can find out more on the Health Education England East of England website.

Talent for Care poses a conundrum. On the one hand, education and training for support staff invokes a flood of support. During consultation, over 6,000 staff, employers, trade unions and educational institutions all talked about the value of developing the healthcare support workforce. 

On the other hand, it fails to secure investment. Why do current figures suggest that 60 per cent of NHS care, which is provided by this 40 per cent of the workforce, attracts less than 5 per cent of national resources for education and training?

In our consultation feedback, lack of investment was identified as a major barrier to education and training for healthcare support workers. “Where would the money come from to backfill for support staff?”, was a frequent question from staff and managers alike.

A chance conversation with the NHS European Office offered new and innovative solutions to this investment issue.

Over the next seven years, England will receive around £5 billion in European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs). The money will be distributed through local investment strategies designed by the 39 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). There are three key areas for the NHS in accessing this funding: commercialisation of innovation; skills and employment; and social inclusion.

Compared with their local authority partners, NHS organisations’ engagement with LEPs is hugely underdeveloped. If we are as keen as we say on meeting the ten strategic initiatives of Talent for Care, then I would urge NHS organisations and local education and training boards (LETBs) to start building and maintaining their relationships with their LEP. In addition to the prize of investment funding, they widen the possibilities of collaboration between the NHS, local businesses and the voluntary sector for the benefits of the communities they serve. 

Our communities need and deserve the employment the NHS can offer. Not many people realise that the NHS has more than 350 potential career options. Furthermore, employment improves health and wellbeing, a key component of every five-year plan.

Healthcare is entering a new era that needs a flexible and trained workforce to take on advances in technology, new roles that cross organisational boundaries and a much stronger emphasis on joined-up, personalised care. The support workforce is becoming even more important with every new initiative.

LEPs offer sustained investment and Talent for Care provides a guiding hand. If these are not already part of your organisation’s plan, I recommend the NHS European Office briefing, Matching health with growth.

In 2013/14, while working on Talent for Care, Health Education England’s 13 LETBs doubled the number of apprentices to the healthcare support workforce. This is just the start. Let the plan come together.

Stephen Welfare is an independent management consultant, a national ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and a former NHS chief executive. 

Like this post?

Share it on Twitter or leave a comment below.

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Confederation

  • Access exclusive resources 
    Access member-only resources and tailor member benefits and services
  • Personalise your website
    Select topics of interest for recommended content
  • Comment and recommend
    Rate and share content with colleagues
  • Never miss a thing
    Register now to keep your finger on the pulse of the NHS Confederation

Log In