The Scalpel's Blog


An enormous opportunity to reconnect with staff awaits the new health secretary

Dean Royles, strategic workforce advisor at Skills for Health and co-author of ‘An Introduction to Human Resources Management,’ published by Oxford University Press, outlines three quick wins that are at the disposal of the new secretary of state.

Matt Hancock, the new secretary of state for health and social care, takes up his post at a critical time for health and social care.

New NHS funding investment has been announced along with the need to develop a 10-year plan to prioritise how the funding will best be utilised. He is also fortunate to have arrived at the time when a multiyear pay deal has been agreed with many NHS trade unions. He seems to have a keen interest and some experience in digital technology. The role of secretary of state no doubt requires a long-term strategic focus that appreciates that there is no sustainable NHS solution without a recognition and a plan to better align health and social care, to ensure patients are supported and cared for in the most appropriate setting. This has to be the focus of a new 10-year plan.

However, I believe there are three quick wins he can make.

  1. Detoxify the relationship of the Department of Health and Social Care with NHS staff. The departure of Jeremy Hunt after so long in post, the end of the junior doctor dispute and pay settlement for Agenda for Change staff means he can move on and create a new narrative – one that recognises the value of staff and trade unions in delivering high-quality care. He can be the champion of staff and of effective NHS leadership, meet with trade unions and engage with them in developing a shared narrative for the future that recognises the need to invest in training & development and education. Despite popular belief, I am sure an olive leaf to trade unions would be received generously and constructively;
  1. Recognise the huge potential in support staff in increasing workforce supply and delivering more efficient services. With his background and understanding of the skills agenda and apprenticeships, he can rapidly increase the NHS skills base, improve the skills escalator and recognise the inherent talent in this part of the workforce. When he was minister for skills, he spoke at the launch of the National Skills Academy for Health where the academy’s commitment to the support workforce skills development was underlined. Many of our support staff have the potential to do so much more. They are just as bright, just as clever and just as committed to high-quality care as registered staff. They just haven’t all had the same equality of opportunity to develop. In my view, support staff are the title deeds to improving workforce supply and productivity. Include them in all decisions and appreciate the diversity of their experience;
  1. Use digital technology to reconnect and engage staff. A truly effective NHS 10-year plan will have plenty of patient involvement, but delivering an ambitious programme will require the goodwill of staff. Focus groups and personal letters to get staff involved have their place, but for the first time digital technology, crowdsourcing and social media will allow hundreds of thousands of staff to know they have contributed to something where their views count and their voices are heard – and a new plan is something that will have been done with them, not to

This is a prime opportunity to use technology to build new relationships of respect and support, and to create a sustainable future through involving and appreciating all NHS staff.

Top image c. Victoria Jones, PA Wire


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