Featured, News, Workforce

BMA survey finds widespread concern among doctors over role of physician associates


The BMA calls for immediate pause to recruitment into Medical Associate Professional (MAP) roles and to limit the scope of MAP roles to administrative and low-risk clinical tasks.

A majority of doctors have expressed concern that physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) are undertaking tasks beyond their competence, according to a new survey from the BMA.

In the survey of more than 19,000 doctors, nearly 80 per cent reported concerns that MAPs were “occasionally or frequently” working on tasks for which they are underqualified, with 87 per cent believing that the current rules pose a risk to patient safety, some or all of the time.

A majority of doctors also believe that working with PAs and AAs has increased their workloads, according to the survey. Only 21 per cent of respondents reported a decrease in their workloads since the employment of MAPs, while more 55 per cent reported that their workload had instead increased.

Professor Phil Banfield, BMA Chair of Council, said: “NHS England tells us that ‘Physician Associates support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients,’ supposedly giving doctors more time to deliver the high-quality care only they can give.

“But the reality appears to be the exact opposite – too many doctors are telling us that working with PAs is instead draining their time and energy. The responsibility for signing off prescriptions and ensuring the PAs are working within their proper scope of practice quite rightly falls on the supervising doctor, but also those doctors working alongside them; as scope has inappropriately crept ever further it has made far more work for doctors than it has saved.

86 per cent of doctors also reported concern that the role of MAPs, and the difference between MAPs and fully qualified doctors, is not well understood by the public, and that many patients may wrongly assume they are being seen by a fully trained doctor. 80 per cent said they would support the change of terminology from Associates to ‘Assistants’, as they were known until 2013.

The House of Lords is expected to consider this week the Anaesthesia Associates and Physician Associates Order 2024 statutory instrument, which if passed, will see the GMC appointed as regulator of MAPs. 72 per cent of respondents to the BMA survey expressed their opposition to the move. The BMA itself has called for all legislators to oppose the Order, arguing instead that regulation of MAPs should fall to the Health Care and Professions Council.

Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Sal Brinton, has tabled a motion of regret outlining concerns about the regulation of MAPs falling under the remit of the GMC, as well as about the nomenclature applied to MAPs, which the motion states “risks confusion for patients”.

Professor Phil Banfield added: “The House of Lords will soon have a chance to oppose damaging legislation that aids that blurring of lines by regulating PAs under the GMC, the doctors’ regulator rather than the more appropriate Health and Care Professions Council.

“The Government and NHSE should be instead ensuring that PAs return to their original purpose of supporting, not replacing doctors, so that doctors can get on with utilising the diagnostic and treatment skills they have spent so long at medical school gaining their expertise in.  Their scope should be strictly defined and, to ensure patients are not confused, the title returned to the more accurate “physician assistant” – then they can play their valuable role in supporting the delivery of NHS care safely.”

The BMA has made the following recommendations:

  • There should be an immediate halt to the recruitment of Medical Associate Professionals (MAPs) in the UK, including PAs and AAs on the grounds of patient safety (as called for by the BMA in November 2023). Long term expansion plans for the roles must be paused.
  • All legislators must oppose the Anaesthesia Associates and Physicians Associate Order 2024. The House of the Lords must vote against it in the days ahead. MAPs should be regulated by the Health Care and Professions Council, as called for by the BMA in response to the original DHSC consultation on regulation in 2017.
  • The titles should revert to physician assistant and physician assistant (anaesthesia) / anaesthesia assistant to avoid public confusion.
  • The scope of the roles should be strictly limited to the original intention of supporting doctors with administration tasks and a defined range of low-risk clinical tasks.
  • The UK has a severe shortage of doctors. This should be urgently addressed by fully funding increased specialty training places and opening Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) funding to GP recruitment.
  • Training opportunities for doctors must be protected. Doctors and medical students should be prioritised for all clinical and training opportunities. This means that within a department/practice any procedure, clinic opportunity, or other structured learning event must be offered to doctors first before being offered to non-doctor staff.  The training of physician associates and anaesthesia associates must not compromise the training of current or future doctors
  • MAPs should not be utilised on any level of doctor rota or perform, train in, or consent to invasive or life-threatening procedures. They should not be receiving any specialty referrals or be in roles requiring them to give specialty advice. They should not make unsupervised treatment decisions or management plans. They must work under direct on-site supervision at a level commensurate with their qualification and not be using on-the-job experience to work beyond their formal level of qualification.
News, Workforce

Internal staff banks help trusts meet 40% rise in demand


New analysis has revealed that the number of shifts being successfully filled by internal staff banks has increased over the last year, helping to meet a simultaneous sharp rise in demand for temporary staffing in 2023.

Healthcare staffing specialists Patchwork Health analysed temporary staffing data from 17 NHS trusts that use digital staff banks. The analysis compared shift fill rates from the staff banks between January-September 2022 and January-September 2023.

The data revealed a 40 per cent year-on-year increase in demand for additional staff to fill vacant shifts, as the NHS has grappled with rising patient waiting lists alongside staff sickness and absences.

Despite this significant increase in the number of vacancies being advertised, data from trusts using a digital staff bank showed that shift fill rates were not only maintained in comparison to 2022 levels, but increased. Fill rates rose to 77 per cent in 2023, up from 75 per cent the year before, meaning that more than 3 in 4 vacant shifts advertised were successfully filled by staff registered to internal banks. This demonstrates the ability of a temporary staff bank to help trusts meet a significant rise in demand.

The data from Patchwork Health also showed that during the period for 2023, the top 20 busiest days in terms of demand for additional staff were all strike days, when increased staff absence left the trusts with a higher number of workforce gaps to fill. The strike days accounted for 13 per cent of all temporary staffing demand in the nine-month period.

Trusts that can rely on internal digital staff banks to fill short and long-term vacancies can reduce their over-reliance on (and the costs associated with) sourcing clinical staff through third-party locum agencies. The NHS pays more than £3bn a year to locum agencies to provide doctors and nurses at short notice.

Dr Anas Nader, CEO and Co-Founder of Patchwork Health, commented: “The NHS has faced a significant rise in both patient demand and staff shortages over the past year. A marked increase in the number of temporary staffing vacancies is reflective of just how far this demand has intensified.

“It’s so encouraging to see the shift fill rate from digital staff banks simultaneously rising, helping trusts to effectively tackle and meet this growing challenge, and keep services safely staffed. It’s a promising indication that the consistent use of an effective, dynamic staff bank can help us to remain resilient and weather fluctuating demand, while reducing over-reliance on costly locum agencies to plug staffing gaps.”

News, Social Care, Workforce

Social care system in sustained crisis despite ‘record’ investment, report finds


2023 Sector Pulse Check report describes the current situation in social care as “arguably more perilous than ever”.

Unsustainable financial and workforce pressures are forcing adult social care providers to turn down new admissions and close services, as government grants are not reaching the people who need them most, according to a new report commissioned by Care England and the learning disability charity, Hft.

Based on a large-scale survey of adult social care providers, the 2023 Sector Pulse Check report finds that despite the sector receiving a £7.5bn funding boost in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s 2022 Autumn Statement, there has been little progress in the key challenges facing social care.

In a statement, Care England described the current social care environment as “arguably more perilous than ever.”

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, commented: “The narrative that social care is under pressure is not a new one. What’s disappointing is that we find ourselves in a worsening crisis amid the Government’s narrative of ‘record investment’ into the sector.

“While the Government did make substantial commitments in the 2022 Autumn Budget, the outcomes have not matched the ambition. The new money into the sector has not led to tangible change or any significant progress towards ‘fixing adult social care’.

The report highlights how headwinds facing the social care sector include rapid and dramatic energy cost increases and unfunded rises in the National Living Wage, which contributed to 40 per cent of adult social care providers ending 2023 in deficit, the report says.

Recent funding initiatives from the government, such as the Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund and the International Recruitment Fund, have failed to mitigate funding concerns for the majority of providers, the report states; 84 per cent of care providers surveyed said that these measures made no difference to their organisation’s overall financial sustainability over the past year.

This has resulted in a reduced capacity for the sector to deliver care across providers, and the report finds that:

  • 43 per cent of providers closed services or handed back contracts;
  • 18 per cent offered care to fewer people;
  • 39 per cent considered exiting the market altogether.

Workforce challenges remain widespread

The findings are concerning for a sector already facing deep-rooted and systemic challenges, particularly around workforce retention and recruitment. Despite a recent rise in international recruitment, staffing shortages remain widespread across the sector, with approximately one in 10 posts vacant in 2023/23. Nearly half (44 per cent) of organisations had to turn down admissions due to a lack of staff in 2023, the report finds.

Care England’s statement argues that the government’s approach to mitigate workforce are not working, and cites the recent tightening of overseas care staff and growing concern over the state of local government finances. Hft and Care England are calling on the government to implement immediate measures to support the care sector, including improving commissioning practice, revising VAT arrangements and removing barriers to ethical international recruitment.

Professor Martin Green OBE added: “It’s clear that the way our system is funded needs a rethink. For years, adult social care providers have absorbed increased costs and inflationary pressures without corresponding funding. When money is made available it simply isn’t cutting through. Recent changes to immigration rules and an insufficient Local Government Finance Settlement this year further suggest a government that is heading in the wrong direction. The sector’s needs are now on red alert.

“Our long-term vision remains one of a sustainable sector that is financially viable and an attractive destination for staff. While this may seem a distant reality, there are a range of policies at the Government’s disposal that would help turn the tide and put us on the path towards a sustainable future. As we count down to a general election, the Government must now make good on their promise to fix our sector.”

Steve Veevers, Chief Executive of Hft, said: “It is difficult to offer words of hope and motivation when the past 12 months have seen the adult social care sector engulfed in a sustained state of crisis.

“Despite moving away from the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been little respite from the fundamental financial and workforce pressures that have faced our sector for many years. The fact that 43% of providers told us they closed a part of their organisation or handed back contracts last year is testament to this.

“Our report provides several realistic, practical and impactful suggestions – including reforming VAT, revisiting the new visa laws for international workers and establishment of national commissioning standards – which we shouldn’t delay in implementing if we want to see real change from the next Government.”

Speaking to ICJ at the launch event, Veevers argued that ICSs, with their remit for joining local services, present an ideal avenue through which to improve access to social care. However, in line with recommendation area four in this year’s Sector Pulse report, he stressed that social care representation on integrated care boards and integrated care partnerships needs to increase in order to adequately reform the sector.

The full 2023 Sector Pulse Check report can be accessed here.

News, Workforce

How NHS leaders can ease staffing pressures over winter


Dr Anas Nader discusses the steps the NHS can take to deliver sustainable and long-term workforce improvements that benefit staff, systems and patients.

The NHS is bracing for another tough winter. Exacerbated by a record waiting list of almost 8 million and a rise in flu and norovirus hospitalisations, all signs point to an intense period of pressure for an NHS that’s already struggling.

To even begin to tackle the challenges this season will bring, the NHS needs a healthy, well-equipped workforce manning the front lines. But with 84 per cent of healthcare leaders understandably worried about the impact of winter pressures on levels of clinical burnout, there’s never been a more acute need to embrace solutions that will ease workforce pressures and support staff in the short and long-term.

Turn flexibility commitments into tangible offers

Recent years have seen a lot of discussion around flexibility for healthcare professionals. And despite the challenges involved in enabling flexibility in an organisational system as complex as the NHS, we are starting to see this rhetoric translate into action.

There is no better time than now to pick up the pace and drive these efforts forward. Facilitating better work-life balance by accounting for staff preferences when rostering is foundational to a healthy future for the NHS workforce and is key to turning the tide on worrying levels of staff exit.

If we can make it easier for clinicians to balance their personal and professional commitments, while maintaining patient safety, the NHS can become a place where every staff member feels supported and valued in their role.

A genuine flexible workforce puts employee empowerment at the heart of decision making. Crucially, this commitment to flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean staff working fewer hours – but it does mean enabling them to have a say in their rota. This can be achieved in many ways. From rolling-out self-rostering technology and moving from a spreadsheet system to one powered by the latest technology and algorithms, to ending the archaic way in which swaps are handled and ensuring staff can book leave much further in advance.

The NHS Staff Survey brought to light that only half (50.2 per cent) of the NHS workforce felt as though they were involved in decisions about changes affecting their work area or team. Being at the mercy of an impersonal, centralised rota will inevitably lead to frustration for staff and increase the likelihood of burnout. It’s time to empower the NHS workforce so they can remain in their roles without compromising their personal lives.

Leverage your data

Our ability to access and analyse data has never been greater. In the NHS, we are collecting reams of data constantly. But not every organisation has access to the necessary tools to put it to good use. Developing ways to leverage organisational data to spot staffing trends can be a game-changer.

Data is the perfect tool for optimising human decision-making. Analysing workforce activity, costs and performance metrics to improve judgements is vital to boosting cost efficiency and growth when it comes to staffing. If we are able to systematically match demand for care with the supply of staff, we can more easily identify hotspots of pressure and redeploy staff appropriately.

This gives managers actionable insights and saves precious decision-making time. Weaving up-to-date data into decision-making also allows teams to be anticipatory – modelling staffing solutions in response to emerging trends, instead of simply firefighting. If we can reliably predict which shifts might be understaffed, we can try and reduce the impact on those working, equipping them with the right support in advance.

A data-first culture also facilitates transparency and accountability on multiple levels. Staff are more likely to unite around decisions informed by, and tailored to, data that matches their reality. And once new initiatives have been put into motion, data has the unique ability to illuminate their successes and setbacks in granular detail, ensuring that no opportunities are missed.

It’s critical that NHS leaders take time now to engage with data, employing it to drive their decisions and empower staff as demand intensifies this winter.

Prioritise collaboration

In order to unlock vital resources in particularly pressured times, regional collaboration can help. Pooling resources across organisations and within integrated care systems (ICSs) can be made to work effectively; enabling staff to safely move in line with demand.

The North West Doctors in Training Collaborative Bank (NWCB), for example, is the largest of its kind in the UK. It has acted as a staffing safety net for the 24 participating trusts since its creation in 2020. The bank has allowed thousands of approved clinical trainees to work shifts outside of their host organisation, reducing the need for extra paperwork which previously restricted movement. The initiative is just one example of how collaboration can grant staff more autonomy when choosing shifts whilst also helping managers plug staffing gaps in line with patient demand.

With the formal introduction of ICSs last year, NHS leaders have the perfect opportunity to make collaborating a priority, in the hopes of delivering more joined up care for patients, but also as a necessary shift towards more sustainable staffing solutions and a healthier workforce.

The root cause of the pressure on NHS workers is often buried beneath the backlog of patients waiting for treatment – in reality, it’s the rigidity of schedules and lack of sufficient staff and resources supporting them, which leads to burnout.

By prioritising flexibility, data-driven decision making and collaboration over the coming months, NHS leaders can drive forward improvements which are tailored and genuinely effective for the clinicians and managers feeling the winter strain.

Dr Anas Nader, Co-Founder and CEO of Patchwork Health
News, Workforce

New endoscopy staff bank to boost NHS capacity in Cheshire and Merseyside


NHS Cheshire and Merseyside Integrated Care System (ICS) has established a new endoscopy staff bank to help boost local capacity and give endoscopy staff greater flexibility over when and where they work.

Developed in partnership with Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust as lead employer, a new collaborative staffing bank for endoscopy staff will enable local trusts to pool their individual networks of temporary workers and adjust staffing levels according to demand. A total of seven trusts, which provide endoscopy services at 10 hospital sites and are part of the Cheshire and Merseyside Endoscopy Network, are participating.

The new bank is available to all NHS staff who specialise in endoscopy across the seven trusts taking part, including clinical, administrative, nursing and medical staff, and it is hoped that greater flexibility for staff will help boost staff retention. The bank will enable staff to pick up additional shifts as and where they wish, allowing them to view and select shifts at any of the 10 hospital sites via a mobile app, connected to a new digital platform built in partnership with workforce solutions provider Patchwork Health.

Participating trusts will be able to manage and approve payments through the platform, as well as gain access to a data reporting tool providing key staffing insights from across the collaborative bank, including staffing levels, pay rates and shift fill rates at the 10 hospitals. Workers joining the staff bank will be engaged through Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ (MWL’s) Lead Employer team and added to their workforce and payroll systems.

Much of the information required on staff will be imported automatically from their existing NHS employment, reducing ‘time to hire’ and avoiding the duplication of checks including pre-employment screening and mandatory training. The new bank will also mean staff do not need honorarium contracts, which were previously required when staff worked for trusts other than their primary employer.

It is hoped that this will benefit staff by introducing greater flexibility to respond to personal circumstances, thereby boosting staff retention.

The ability to allocate workforce and resources within a region according to real-time need has long been touted as a potential strength of ICSs. Cheshire and Merseyside ICS hope that the establishment of the staffing bank will help to reduce reliance on agency staff, cutting costs and leading to shorter waiting times for patients. Visibility of staffing data will help teams across Cheshire and Merseyside Acute and Specialist Trusts (CMAST) – the provider collaborative which covers the ten hospital sites – to monitor staffing trends and identify areas for improvement, supporting them to meet rising patient demand.

The Cheshire and Merseyside endoscopy staff bank is the second major collaborative staffing initiative launched by lead employer, MWL Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. In 2020, it launched the North West Doctors in Training Collaborative Staff Bank, the largest initiative of its kind in the UK, which brings together 24 trusts across the North West and has helped retain an estimated £6 million within the NHS to date.

The seven trusts, which provide endoscopy at 10 hospital sites and are all part of Cheshire and Merseyside Endoscopy Network, are:

  • Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Leighton hospital;
  • East Cheshire NHS Trust – Macclesfield hospital;
  • Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust – including Whiston, St Helens and Ormskirk hospital sites;
  • Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Warrington hospital;
  • Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – including Liverpool Royal and Aintree hospital sites; and
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – Arrowe Park hospital.

Tracey Cole, Diagnostics Programme Director, Cheshire and Merseyside, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer this new way of flexible working so that staff can select where and when they want to work to ensure that all our patients are seen with the shortest possible waiting time.

“Each trust across Cheshire and Merseyside can access this secondary bank in addition to their own internal bank, which means that there will be less reliance on agencies when additional capacity is required.

“Staff are able to work and earn in addition to their substantive employment and share learning and best practice with their peers.”

Dr Anas Nader, CEO and Co-Founder at Patchwork Health, said: “It’s a privilege to be working with Cheshire and Merseyside and lead employer Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to expand access to collaborative staffing in the region through the new ‘Diagnostics Collaborative Bank’.

“By connecting workforces from across the region, it is helping to increase flexibility for staff and workforce teams alike. This is especially important as services face unprecedented demand; more flexible, collaborative workforce planning is making it easier for staff to be deployed in line with patient need.

“We’re excited to continue growing this initiative as we onboard more staff and support them to work flexibly through the collaborative staff bank. By doing so, we hope to help support retention, boost collaboration and ease staffing pressures across the region, empowering services to work together to facilitate more sustainable staffing.”

Anyone interested in joining can apply via the following link:

Mental Health, News, Workforce

Number of nurses experiencing suicidal thoughts up 98%, RCN finds


The findings have been described as a “frightening wake-up call”, with mental health support for nursing staff declining amid increased pressures.

The number of nurses experiencing suicidal thoughts has risen by 98 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to new data released by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Calls to the RCN’s Advice Line in October found that an equivalent of one person each working day was reporting suffering from suicidal ideation in their initial call, compared to just one per week in October 2021. In response to its findings, the college has commissioned research to understand in greater detail the reasons behind poor wellbeing among members, and to discern whether or not marginalised groups are being impacted disproportionately.

The RCN has previously highlighted the “failure of [the] UK government’s promise to recruit 50,000 nurses”, and points to a 12 per cent fall in the number of people expected to take up nursing courses in England this year as evidence that the nursing workforce is facing “dangerous staff shortages”, which are proving harmful to staff morale and patient care.

The RCN is renewing its call on the government to invest in dedicated mental health support for nurses who are suffering from “persistent understaffing, intolerable pressures at work and financial insecurity at home”. Despite these pressures, one third of the 41 mental health hubs established by NHS England have closed, including seven specialist hubs established during the Covid-19 pandemic. A further seven reported in May 2023 that they had less than a year’s funding to stay open.

The RCN’s Interim Head of Nursing Practice, Stephen Jones, has described the findings as a “frightening wake-up call”, adding: “Nursing staff contribute so much to our society, but working in an inherently stressful job can come at an enormous personal cost. Yet we see support services cut when we should be seeing greater investment in looking after those who care for us.

“The increasing burden on nursing staff, as they try to help clear the excessive backlog in care, has created intolerable working conditions on every shift. Coupled with nursing pay not keeping up with the cost-of-living, we’re alarmed by this growing mental health crisis among nursing staff.
“The UK government must understand that cuts to mental health support for nursing staff can’t continue – when you invest in the health of nursing staff you also invest in the health of patients.”

Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Providers, said that: “The RCN is right to highlight the impact of escalating pressure on nurses’ mental health due to increased demand and staff shortages. We need urgent action to tackle this situation, which has led to an alarming rise in suicidal thoughts among nursing staff.

“Nurses play a vital role in our society but cannot be expected to meet such high demand without proper national support for, and investment in, frontline services.”

Community Care, News, Workforce

Recognising the value and impact of AHP support workers within healthcare


This week the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, along with a coalition of 13 other allied health professional (AHP) bodies, is celebrating Support Worker Awareness Week.

AHP support workers are an integral part of multidisciplinary teams. They are relied upon for the transformative role they have to play across many different services, including physiotherapy. They work within their scope of practice to carry out a wide range of tasks and are supervised by a registered healthcare professional who retains responsibility for patient care.

The value of support workers cannot be underestimated. The contribution to services by support workers, both in the NHS and the independent sector, enhances patient outcomes, improves patient experience and increases service efficiency. They also provide immeasurable guidance and support to the wider health and care team.

Currently, we see increasing numbers of support workers playing a vital role in facilitating education by supporting physiotherapy students with their learning. By supporting physiotherapy students with practice-based learning during their placements, support workers offer a safe and supportive space, and contribute to the growth of the profession.

During the pandemic, support workers demonstrated great flexibility and brought new skills to the role. Their responsibilities increased and elements of their practice developed to meet the extraordinary pressures on the system.

Need for more support workers

More physiotherapy support workers are needed within the NHS, but this demand can’t be met by increasing the registered workforce alone. With ever-increasing physiotherapy waiting lists, an ageing population and more patients living with multiple conditions, more support workers are needed to fulfil population, patient and service delivery needs in safe, effective ways.

The CSP has recently conducted a physiotherapy workforce review in England and is calling for 6,500 additional non-registered physio posts in the NHS over the next five years. Additionally, the recent NHSE intermediate care framework recommends maximising the use of skilled support workers. If utilised at the right points in intermediate care pathways, their skills and expertise will improve access to high quality rehab that is timely, safe and person-centred.

In Northern Ireland, we want to see the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Physiotherapy Workforce Review Report published in 2020, including the establishment of apprenticeships for physiotherapy support workers. In Scotland, we are calling for funded ‘earn and learn’ routes to be established and in Wales, the expansion of the level 4 apprenticeship scheme for support workers.

The support worker role is evolving, with increased opportunity to carry out additional responsibilities in practice. Higher-level support workers have additional responsibilities across the four pillars of practice. These roles are important to provide a positive impact on patient flow, quality of patient care and to meet new national policy developments.

What support workers need

Support workers need clear opportunities and pathways to develop capabilities and pursue career development. Each UK country should have a programme of work to develop support worker roles including those at higher level. This should both develop CPD opportunities, a greater consistency in levels of practice, capabilities and governance arrangements.

Higher-level support worker roles are one example of career development and provide opportunity for managers to think creatively about the skills mix within their teams.

With the right systems and support in place, support workers can do so much more.

Looking to the future

With the opening of the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in East Midlands planned in early 2025, there is a new pioneering role.

The centre will offer a foundation degree apprenticeship for a rehab assistant practitioner role (band 4 equivalent). The rehab assistant practitioner will work across OT, physio and nursing with an evidence and training base behind them.

The NRC plans to offer around three to four hours a day of rehab as opposed to the 30-40 mins per day rehab normally offered in the NHS. Rehab Assistant Practitioners will be key in meeting these ambitious targets.

It is clearly time to recognise and shine a spotlight on the vital role of support workers but also most crucially to invest in their pathway and career opportunities.

News, Workforce

Addressing whistleblower concerns in the NHS


Building a culture of transparency and accountability will be essential steps to encourage and protect whistleblowers in the speak-up system.

The NHS has been grappling with concerns surrounding its whistleblowing systems and cultural health. This has been highlighted repeatedly in the press over the last week with coverage of the Lucy Letby trial, within which there were shown to be multiple failures in internal reporting processes.

This demonstrates the need for an independent reporting line for employees across the organisation. NHS employees must have the opportunity to speak with an entirely impartial party who can process their concern and pass on the information to the appropriate team for further investigation.

Whistleblowers within the NHS have often faced challenges, making them hesitant to report wrongdoing due to fears of retaliation and detrimental treatment. Despite these obstacles, 2023-23 saw a significant increase in NHS whistleblowers coming forward compared to the previous year, highlighting the urgent need for reform in the whistleblowing process.

In fact, a record 25,000 plus NHS whistleblowers came forward last year. Of these cases, as has been reported by Freedom to Speak Up Guardians office, the most common reports were of inappropriate behaviours and attitudes (30 per cent), followed by worker safety and wellbeing (27 per cent) and bullying and harassment (22 per cent).

Reports indicate that NHS employees are lacking confidence in the current speak -up system, with many feeling labelled as troublemakers when they raise concerns. This detrimental culture not only deters individuals from speaking up but also hinders the NHS’s ability to identify and address wrongdoing, potentially endangering both patients and employees. And that’s before the damage to the NHS’s reputation is considered.

Improving the speak-up system

For optimal trust and confidence in a speak-up system, employees must feel that their concerns will be taken seriously and investigated appropriately.

Unfortunately, this most recent case is the most extreme example of that not happening, with Dr Stephen Brearey stating that if hospital executives had acted on concerns about nurse Lucy Letby earlier, lives may have been saved.

To address these pressing issues, steps need to be taken to: improve employee confidence; identify and combat wrongdoing; and protect those who come forward to report concerns.

One crucial measure is to review and audit the NHS’s whistleblowing policy, processes, and operations to understand the reasons for the breakdown of trust. Identifying and holding accountable those responsible for retaliating against whistleblowers is essential to foster a culture of transparency and accountability.

Providing whistleblowing training to both employees and managers is another critical step to improve the speak-up culture. When employees are aware of how to raise concerns, and the legal protections they have under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), they are more likely to come forward without fear of retribution. Additionally, providing training to managers on how to receive and handle disclosures appropriately can help deter misconduct.

The current Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) Guardian scheme, while a positive step towards improving whistleblowing culture, appears to lack confidence among NHS employees, with many remaining hesitant to report serious concerns through an internal system due to doubts about confidentiality and impartiality. One worker told the FTSU Guardians that “the Guardian was excellent, but nothing has been resolved”. The Guardians themselves have said that managers need to be trained about their obligations once they receive a report.

Taking affirmative action to instil trust

To build trust, the NHS can consider offering an alternative means of disclosure, such as a dedicated, outsourced whistleblowing hotline provider, ensuring true anonymity and independence in the reporting process. Safecall already works alongside several NHS Trusts helping make their processes more robust and transparent. Employees are much more confident speaking to, and reporting through, a third party.

It is vital that the investigation procedure is handled in a fair and balanced fashion, and not conducted in a way that undermines the whistleblowers’ concerns. To instil confidence in the reporting process, investigations should be conducted in an independent and confidential manner. Outsourcing the investigation process or ensuring that internal investigators undergo proper training and possess the necessary experience can help safeguard employees’ wellbeing and protect the NHS’s reputation.

It is paramount for the NHS to take affirmative action in protecting whistleblowers and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. No healthcare professional should face detrimental treatment for raising concerns that may impact patient safety. To achieve this, the NHS must review its systems, provide comprehensive training, and offer reliable and independent reporting avenues.

The NHS must strive to offer confidentiality, impartiality, and independence when receiving and investigating concerns. These efforts should be continuous and consistent to create effective and sustainable change within the organisation.

In conclusion, addressing whistleblowing concerns in the NHS is crucial for promoting a culture of transparency and accountability. By taking proactive steps, such as reviewing policies, providing comprehensive training, and ensuring independent investigations, the NHS can create an environment where employees feel confident and protected when speaking up against wrongdoing.

Fostering a culture that values whistleblowers and their contributions will not only strengthen the NHS internally but also enhance its reputation and commitment to patient care.

Chancelle Blakey, Business Development Manager, Safecall
News, Workforce

NHS Workforce Plan will need a change in mindset from clinicians, patients and systems


Enacting reforms through a clinically-led, multi-disciplinary lens will be critical to achieving the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan centres on the need to train, reform and retain its employees to meet future demand, leading to an increase of up to 360,000 new staff across integrated care systems (ICSs). Increasing the number of formal training places available through more diverse points of entry and improving retention through rewarding career and development are at the heart of what needs to be done to deliver this plan.

The introduction of new roles, reforming the way care is delivered and by whom, will be critical to meeting anticipated demand in 2036/37. But these roles will need to be designed, clinically-led, and committed to driving productivity to create the capacity needed.

Determining which roles will be needed to meet demand

It is important to recognise that more staff will not increase capacity unless clinical pathways can be redesigned to be more efficient and effective. During COVID-19, there was about a 10 per cent increase in headcount within NHS acute trusts. However, at the beginning of 2023/24, providers were at 97 per cent of pre-pandemic productivity levels. Delivery of the NHS Workforce Plan means broadening the skill mix of multidisciplinary teams, creating new and diverse roles across systems. In designing the new workforce, the roles need to create new capacity to meet demand, either through new services to meet future need or by increasing provision in existing services.

Creating a new role requires the redesign of the way that multidisciplinary teams work together. The starting point for this workforce design should be the optimal clinical pathways, rather than what is being done today. That means setting out the clinical red lines (what can only be done by a registered healthcare professional), looking at the skills and roles needed, and the most efficient use of capacity.

The design of the COVID-19 vaccination workforce demonstrated how new roles could be created to meet increased demand. The drive to create this workforce led over 145,000 people to join the NHS working as unregistered vaccinators who came from diverse backgrounds, including retired medical staff, airline workers, volunteers and students.

Systems will also need to be more focused on the competency of the workforce, training employees in the skills needed to deliver their role safely and efficiently. The aim from the offset should be designing broad and rewarding recruitment, training and career pathways that will attract and retain the right talent.  This could include consideration of how these roles can be steppingstones into future training or careers, as well as how apprenticeships could open doors for eligible people to take on these new roles.

To meet growing demand in the national breast screening programme, two unregistered roles have been created in collaboration with the College of Radiographers, along with redefined roles and clinical career frameworks. Approximately 30 percent of the breast screening workforce is now in these new roles. – mammography associates and assistant practitioners – with defined scopes of practice and accreditation to undertake mammography.

Clinical leadership is required

Creating new roles in healthcare is about shifting care, or elements of decision making, to another trained and competent healthcare professional. This requires a change in approach from the provision of clinically delivered care to a position where healthcare is clinically-led but can be provided by a diverse multidisciplinary team. Clinicians should be at the centre of the redesign of the workforce, but their input will need to be coupled with that from those with the skills and expertise in increasing capacity.

The NHS has had mixed success in integrating new roles into healthcare teams. The COVID-19 vaccination programme was a nationally designed workforce model which used simulation to provide an evidence base and was clinically-led.

Another approach, the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), was established in 2019 and produced more variable results. The scheme provided an automatic funding stream to Primary Care Networks to recruit 26,000 alternative roles to expand service provision and reduce patient waits.

This was part of the government commitment to improve access to general practice and included roles such as clinical pharmacists and technicians. Not all practices have seen the anticipated benefits of these roles, with the Kings Fund highlighting that the roles were not being implemented or integrated into primary care teams effectively.

It will also be important to manage the expectations of patients, in particular that they will always see a medical professional. The government and NHS leaders need to consider how to secure public acceptance of self-management for those with long term conditions, more care being provided in the home and community rather than hospital, and from trained staff who are not medically qualified. However, there will need to be a visible improvement in access to healthcare services if the public are to support these changes.

The NHS is aiming to have 10,000 virtual ward beds in place to support growing demand this winter. A clinically-led redesign of the workforce means that care will continue to be overseen by a medical team, but the delivery of healthcare will predominantly be through a multidisciplinary team of healthcare support workers and allied healthcare professionals.

New capacity will be needed to meet training demands

The Workforce Plan contains a commitment to grow the number of training places across all professions. Capacity to provide this training will need to be created from existing workforces and services. This creates a risk that waiting times may increase.

The plan commits to growing the number of medical school training places from 10,000 in 2028/29 to 15,000 by 2031/32. Each of these training place will require support from existing clinicians. The British Medical Association (BMA) recommends additional non-patient facing time to support trainees, of only an hour a week, per trainee, for each consultant.

To meet this standard will require more than 125 full time consultants/GPs to be released each year from NHS services. By 2036/37 this will see more than 625 full time consultants/GPs supporting additional trainees, rather than delivering care. That makes it critical that productivity and efficiency are at the heart of service redesign to minimise the impact on waiting times.

This underlines that the plan’s ambitions on training and retaining staff will not be achieved without fundamental reform. That will require a careful analysis of the right size and shape of the workforce that will be needed to meet future demand for local populations. Now more than ever, diverse, multidisciplinary, efficient, and clinically-led approaches will be the key principles that systems should be adopting when driving the reform of their workforce.

Written by Amanda Grantham, healthcare expert and Partner at PA Consulting.

News, Workforce

How industry can help deliver the ambitions of the NHS Workforce Plan


The long-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan (NHS LTWP) was published at the end of June and has been broadly welcomed across the healthcare system.

The NHS in England is under increasing pressure. By 2037, the number of people aged over-85 is estimated to grow by 55 per cent, which means there will be an ageing population who will require more healthcare interventions and more care for long-term conditions and co-morbidities. The NHS currently has the longest waiting times and lowest satisfaction rates ever recorded which has been demotivating for employees and frustrating for patients.

The current NHS workforce challenges have impacted the whole of the healthcare system and can delay people receiving the best treatments available. Once a treatment is approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) there needs to be the capacity for it to be rolled out, including any additional training requirements and this will have an impact on industry partners if new treatments are not utilised.

There are examples of fast-paced innovation within cancer treatments, but the adoption is slowed by a stretched and understaffed system – following the long-term impacts of the pandemic – that does not have protected time to embed new approaches. Collaboration between sectors is also crucial to support adoption at scale. If these workforce challenges are not addressed, patients will not be able to access the right healthcare when they need it.

There are three big ambitions laid out in the NHS LTWP:

  • Recruitment – there is a focus on a big recruitment drive into roles in the NHS and into training places. As there are currently shortfalls in almost every area of the NHS, particularly in frontline care, this needs to be a priority.
  • Retention – a large number of professionals leave the NHS every year, so focusing on how the NHS keeps the people who are already employed is essential if they are going to meet the increasing demand on the system.
  • Retraining – there is more to training than getting new people into the workforce – it is also recognising that to make the NHS future proof, more needs to be done to support the current and future workforce to embrace new technology. This needs to address how the whole health system embraces new ways of working and developments in technology. There can’t be fast adoption of new technologies if the training and skills aren’t quickly put into place for the workforce and patients.

Although the NHS LTWP has been broadly welcomed by the healthcare system, there are some very clear omissions that will make it hard to deliver. There is no mention of infrastructure, meaning that capital investment isn’t aligned to the planned workforce investment. Many of the current hospital buildings in use are not fit for purpose and it was recently announced that the target to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 is likely to be missed.

“There is an opportunity for industry to think about how new technologies can address some of these pressures in the system.”

This NHS LTWP does not include social care and is not aligned to a similar reform of our social care system, which is currently suffering from many of the same challenges as the NHS in terms of increased demand on services with a reduced workforce. If the healthcare and social care systems do not receive investment simultaneously, then one will take on the burden of the other, as they are intrinsically linked.

The NHS LTWP talks about innovation in robotics which has dramatically reduced how long patients need to stay in hospital; for example, heart surgery often now requires a shorter stay in hospital due to technological advances. However, these technologies often need to be accommodated in modern facilities, which means new capital investment. Furthermore, without appropriately resourcing the social care system, many patients are not able to move out of hospital when they are ready to.

Many of the ambitions laid out in the NHS LTWP will take time to deliver, so there is an opportunity for industry to think about how new technologies can address some of these pressures in the system. Those in industry can position themselves to make relevant value propositions and be part of the discussions over the coming years.

The education piece in the NHS LTWP is also interesting for industry, as there are plans to accelerate how people are trained, meaning that there could potentially be a role for life sciences to support with this. IQVIA’s work in population health management and service redesign will also continue to help address workforce challenges, especially when aligned and augmented with IQVIA’s clinical services.

This NHS LTWP is highly innovative, but there is no mention about how it is going to be funded, which raises questions around whether it will actually deliver what is needed for the NHS. This is especially true given the current issues within social care, but by working collaboratively with industry, there is an opportunity to bring in experts to look into niche, innovative solutions.

Stephen Jowett is Senior Director and Head of Healthcare Consulting at IQVIA.