NHS workforce -  opportunities and challenges

Danny Mortimer

It's just over a year since I took on the role of chief executive for the NHS Employers organisation, following 25 years working in trusts around England. The future seems even more challenging than it did when I first joined. What has remained constant is my faith in the talent of our amazing NHS workforce.

The upfront investment for the NHS, delivered in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement is of course welcome but financial pressures, nationally and locally, continue to have a profound impact on the vitally important care workforce in nursing and care homes, domiciliary and charitable organisations.

The demand by government to continue to limit pay costs across the public sector hampers the ability to reform and improve contracts to meet government and employer aspirations, and whilst the present junior doctor dispute speaks to long-standing concerns specific to that part of our workforce, it also reminds us that we must not take the commitment of our talented people for granted. On the whole, we can hold up partnership working between the trade unions and employers in the NHS, even in the face of unsettling trade union legislation and I'm confident that collaborative working will remain strong albeit often testing during 2016.

The demand for additional staff, especially from the nursing family won't go away in 2016. With help and support from local employers, national leaders, trade unions and colleagues in social and non-statutory provision, we were able to persuade the Home Office that nurses are equally as vital as chefs and ballet dancers to our national success and should be added to the shortage occupation list. This allowed local NHS trusts and other care providers across the UK to bring in staff from outside the EEA to fill vacant posts and reduce the dependence on agency and temporary staff.

I have two asks for 2016. The first is a personal plea to the print and broadcast media to more fully share and celebrate the contribution that healthcare professionals from around the globe have made to the NHS since its foundation. Secondly, the addition of nurses to the shortage occupation list is only a temporary measure. I would again ask the Home Secretary to demonstrate her support for the NHS and other caring organisations and make nursing a permanent fixture on the list, at least whilst domestic training places increase.

Evidence has shown us for years that where we invest time and effort in engaging and looking after our people, patient care improves. The emphasis on staff health and wellbeing in the NHS forward view is very welcome, for example. There are some brilliant initiatives in this area and best practice across the NHS, much of which would be the envy of the private and other areas of the public sectors. Working with Simon Stevens and his team, I am pleased that we will be able to share more of this good work in 2016 helping the NHS learn from each other, and also building a compelling evidence base for the impact of investment in workplace health. Other challenges remain however: whilst the reported levels of bullying and harassment in the NHS are relatively low, compared to most sectors, they are too high and must have an unacceptable impact on teams and those they care for. During 2016, I want to work with our trade union colleagues to make tackling this issue a priority for the NHS, and am grateful for Minister for Care Quality, Ben Gummer’s commitment to this initiative.

I also predict that 2016 will see the NHS embrace apprenticeships even further, especially in clinical roles. The commitment has always been there, but during the coming year, I know we will see some really innovative schemes that allow young people to enter the health and caring professions in routes that are best suited to them. I've already seen the difference that giving young people and people with learning disabilities an opportunity to shine can do, not only for those individuals but also for patients and staff. I hope that others will use 2016 to see this for themselves.

I have one prediction that I know will be right. The 1.3 million individuals that make up the NHS team in every community in England will continue to work exceptionally hard to care for you. They will be the ones there in the middle of night when you rush to A&E with a loved one, they will be reassuring an elderly relative at home, helping you with your depression, providing practical advice at a GP surgery or will be pushing you along a corridor on a trolley, preparing your food or testing your bloods or building your confidence and physical capacity as you rehabilitate. I know that each and every one of them will put you first. If we can all make one New Year’s resolution then perhaps it should be to say 'thank you' to each and every one of those 1.3 million exceptional individuals.

This blog also appeared in the Guardian Healthcare Network.

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