The Department of Health and Social Care has published an interim mandate to Health Education England (HEE) setting out its immediate priorities for the ongoing development of the health and social care workforce.
Facing the unprecedented challenge of managing the threat of COVID-19 tops the list, although introducing the mandate, Helen Whately MP, Minister of State for Care, says: "We must also prepare for the recovery of our health and care system and learn lessons from this experience."
This is a brief mandate, designed to "provide clarity for the system," and to be replaced with a further mandate once the threat of the virus has been suppressed.
Whilst overseas staff will be welcomed as an invaluable part of the overall NHS team, the pandemic has added new challenges to recruiting such staff and underlines why it is so important that the workforce that may be drawn from the UK is enlarged. "HEE is already doing an outstanding job supporting this growth, and will play a vital role in the months ahead," says Helen Whately.
"The People Plan for 2020/21 has set out an updated vision for tackling the workforce challenges the NHS is facing – supply, culture, reform – and HEE also has a crucial part to play in putting that into practice."
One of the processes HEE is expected to facilitate is helping the health service to retain staff who may have returned to the NHS through the pandemic, as well as students and other healthcare professionals who have been flexible and adapted to work in a different speciality. HEE's role in equipping these individuals to remain within the NHS should they wish to do so, will be important.
"The capability with which existing staff adapted their practice to meet the needs of the patients they were presented with at the height of the pandemic also showed the value of flexible, collaborative and multi-disciplinary working when trained professionals are freed up to work together. I am keen that this spirit is sustained into the future, not just by training new staff to work in this way, but by giving the current workforce the space, development and support they need to do so. Again, HEE will be part of the answer for making this happen."
Ms Whately also stresses the need for close collaboration, support and understanding between healthcare and social care.
There are six objectives of the HEE mandate:
• Work with arm's length bodies, HEE is expected to act collaboratively and with agility to take all necessary action to ensure a robust response to the impact of COVID-19 on the NHS, its staff and its patients. A particular focus should be on ensuring that, where students and trainees are able to contribute to the response to the pandemic, as far as possible future student graduation and progression is maintained to the expected academic schedule.
• Progress work on delivering the 50,000 nurse programme – working with Programme leads in DHSC and NHSE/I on robust project delivery plans with agreed trajectories, milestones, risks, issues and dependencies; setting up appropriate project governance arrangements to ensure delivery at pace; and ensuring project SROs are duly supported within the organisation to discharge their role appropriately.
• Make progress towards the government’s commitments on primary care including increasing the number of GP training places to 3,500 a year in 2020.
• Continue to work collaboratively with DHSC and NHSE/I on implementing the NHS People Plan 2020/21: actions for us all, including making further progress on addressing equality, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of HEE’s work and supporting NHS staff as they act flexibly and take on new roles as we continue to respond to the pandemic.
• Provide finance, activity and outcomes information to support in year financial discussions with DHSC – acknowledging that the HEE programme Budget for 2020/21 has been set at £4.170 billion, including £60 million for People Plan priorities – and to inform the Spending Review (including clarification of the funding requirements for the 50,000 nurse programme and primary care commitments).
• Complete the mandate and business plan deliverables from 2019/20.
Over the next few months, the first objective - supporting the government to manage COVID-19 - will be the main focus. Expectations on the amount of progress to be made in delivering the other objectives during 2020/21 will be adjusted if necessary to take account of this.