Health Service Focus

02.09.19

Building Bolton’s NHS workforce

Source: NHE: Jul/Aug 19

Mark O’Reilly, project director at Bolton College of Medical Sciences (BCMS), discusses how the institution wants to transform the NHS workforce to tackle the chronic shortage in medical staff.

A recent report, published by The Nuffield Trust, Health Foundation and King's Fund, suggests that current trends in workforce recruitment and development will widen the staffing crisis in the NHS, predicting significant shortages of both doctors and nurses. It states that significant changes are needed in the way the NHS is funded if the situation is to be improved. 

NHS trusts in England are forced to use agency staff to plug the gap. Many of these staff are recruited from outside the UK, which also means the situation could be exacerbated by Brexit. 

Health care careers can often be difficult to access, with challenging entry requirements and working conditions. The proposed BCMS has been designed specifically to address these issues. 

BCMS is a partnership between the Bolton Royal Hospital Foundation Trust, Bolton College, The University of Bolton, Bolton Council and the Bolton Medical Institute. 

The proposals will see the development of a £30m, 6,000m2 vocational skills and training centre, located in the grounds of the Royal Bolton Hospital. The centre will focus on clinical and medical vocational training, augmented by theoretical course provision also being delivered across the wider University and College campus network. BCMS will deliver to 3,000 learners per year, with up to 20,000 apprenticeship learners supported over its first 20 years.

The curriculum has been designed by the University, College and the NHS workforce development team, to address key skills shortages, and provide pathways for advancement and workforce development that are currently difficult for NHS staff to access. This will include new qualifications for Physician Associate and Advanced Clinical Practice, providing new advancement opportunities for existing NHS staff and other health care professionals.  

BCMS is also set to have a significant economic impact on an area of relative depravation, with an estimated £150m added to the regional economy over its lifetime. Located in Farnworth, near Bolton, BCMS is an anchor development in the council’s ambitious Bolton 2030 Economic Development Plan, as well as for the regeneration of Farnworth itself, with the hospital site being one of the area’s largest employers and economic drivers. It will also make jobs and careers in healthcare more accessible to local people. 

The challenges faced by the health sector in the UK are, to some extent, mirrored by the education and skills sector. A historic lack of investment in the right kind of skills provision, in the right place, at the right time, has led to severe skills shortages in a number of sectors. Increasingly, FE providers will have to focus on the delivery of technical and professional vocational skills, much of it aimed at work-based learning, including simulated workplace environments and increasing the use of technology and virtual learning. All of this will require significant capital investment. 

BCMS hopes to act as a blueprint for the healthcare sector, providing an exemplar vocational training and skills centre, with a leading-edge curriculum employing the very latest in simulated, technology-rich and virtual learning environments. 

It is a bold effort. The forward thinking of the strategic partners, and their effort and commitment to bring this project to fruition is worthy of mention. If it works, then BCMS could help to transform the way education, skills and workforce development is delivered in the UK’s healthcare sector. 

In turn, this will help to improve healthcare services, with increased numbers of well-trained, professional workers, ready to face the challenges associated with healthcare provision for an ageing population in a technological age. In any case, BCMS can act as a way-marker for other similar provisions, which will be needed if we are to get anywhere near ‘closing the gap’. 

BCMS is set to welcome its first learners in 2021, subject to planning approval.

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