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Calls for NHS and colleges to partner to tackle workforce shortages

A network of ‘employer hubs’ set up across England is being called for to help tackle the significant workforce vacancies across the NHS and social care, as well as supporting the UK Government’s levelling up ambitions.

As part of a new report launched by NHS Confederation and the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, Creating the workforce of the future, proposals for these ‘employer hubs’ were outlined, looking to bring together local NHS organisations, including hospitals and general practices, with their further education colleges to collaborate on courses and a pipeline for the local recruitment of health and care staff across a range of professions.

The hubs would focus on supporting local people to enter or progress careers in health and care, including through recruitment, upskilling and retraining, and in doing so, tackle local workforce shortages, which can vary considerably across the country.

Integrated Care Systems in England would be expected to play a key role in these hubs, establishing a coherent approach to bringing the college voice into their strategic system workforce planning.

Workforce shortages have been a significant challenge faced by the NHS for a number of years, with additional strain expected as part of the health service’s resumption of patient services which had to be paused as part of the initial response to coronavirus.

Currently, there are a reported 90,000 vacancies in the NHS, with a further 120,000 in social care.

In its joint publication, the NHS Confederation and the Independent Commission on the College of the Future call on the Government to:

  • Invest £5m over two years to pilot employer hubs in each of the seven NHS regions in England to help NHS and care organisations’ recruitment and training,
  • Support the creation of a Health and Care College Council in England, with £2m funding over three years to create a national council to promote, develop and embed the essential contribution of colleges in education and training pipelines in England, and,
  • Embed the role of colleges in the local delivery of the national NHS People Plan, which was published in July.

Danny Mortimer, Deputy Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, and Chief Executive of NHS Employers, said: “The Government’s commitment to level up the country, tackle regional inequalities and solve the workforce crisis across health and social care will fall flat without targeted action to improve supply including investment in colleges to support local upskilling, retraining and recruitment into these vital roles.

“Over the course of the pandemic, the spotlight has shone bright on the hard work and dedication of key workers, highlighting how essential they are to the health and wealth of their communities. The pandemic has also starkly highlighted a number of underlying issues, which if we are to attract more people into NHS and social care roles, must be addressed without delay.”

Amanda Melton, Commissioner for the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and Principal and Chief Executive of Nelson and Colne College Group, added: “Colleges are a key education and training route for key workers and the recommendations in this report provide an opportunity for them to do even more. We need to develop the relationship between colleges and the NHS to best meet serious workforce challenges.

“The role and contribution of colleges within the education and skills system, and specifically in the minds of large employers such as the NHS is all too often poorly understood. With these recommendations, we have an opportunity to unlock their potential to develop strong and sustainable pathways into NHS careers for local people using tangible steps.

“During the Covid-19 crisis we have seen college students and staff volunteering for the NHS and in care homes to support their communities. The work of colleges up and down this country helps to improve health through the education and wrap around support they deliver for their students and communities.

“The recommendations set out in this report are priorities that should be taken, but wider reform is needed for colleges for them to deliver for people, employers and communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the UK Government as they set out their plans for Further Education White Paper in England later this year.

“Whilst this report focuses on England, as a Commission we will explore opportunities for taking forward the themes in this report in the context of the four nations.”

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