Health Professions
NHS People Plan places staff wellbeing front and centre

By David Forrest - Integrated Care Journal

The Government has published its long-awaited health and care workforce strategy, The NHS People Plan, but does it deliver upon the needs of the sector?

Over a year after its original publication date, the Government’s highly anticipated People Plan has finally been unveiled. The plan seeks to address the physical and mental health challenges that health and social care staff have been subjected to during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan focuses on NHS staff wellbeing, introducing new recruitment, retention and support packages. Practical measures include safe spaces for staff to rest, along with wellbeing guardians and further support to help keep staff physically safe and healthy.


Cutting red tape to embed innovation 

The plan has been published alongside the Government’s new bureaucracy-busting drive, which aims to reduce the burden of unnecessary admin for NHS staff and ultimately improve patient care by freeing up time.

Throughout the pandemic, professional regulators such as The Nursing and Midwifery Council and General Medical Council have introduced virtual hearings, saving time for those being investigated and those giving evidence. These councils have also taken a different approach to revalidation which provides more time for supporting patients.

The Government is hoping to build on these time-saving tools and to empower staff to embed innovative practices that have been implemented in response to the pandemic.

This includes the rapid assembly of research nurses and clinical trial assistants to recruit patients for the world’s biggest randomised clinical trial, the surge in volunteers to support those in need and a new emphasis on flexible working with remote meetings and consultations becoming widespread.

The People Plan and a new bureaucracy-busting call for evidence before will work together to find and promote positive changes made before and during the pandemic. This could include allowing staff to use secure messaging services such as WhatsApp so that patients can benefit from rapid access to information, and making it easier to link millions of primary-care records to the latest coronavirus data, helping the Government to carry out the world’s largest analysis of coronavirus risk factors.

Announcing the report, Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised NHS staff: “Every single person working in the NHS has contributed to an unprecedented national effort to beat back this virus and save lives. ” 

Mr Hancock said he wanted to make the NHS “the best place to work”, stating that there will be dramatic increases in support both primary and secondary care. Mr Hancock has said he is committed to ensuring that the best level of care is given and that the Government is “urging” NHS workers to “speak up about what red tape you can do without” so that staff can focus on delivering high-quality care.

Prerana Issar, NHS England Chief People Officer, said: “the plan aims to make real and lasting change in our NHS to benefit our hardworking staff.

“The pandemic has created huge challenges, but it has also highlighted the courage and innovation we are capable of in the most difficult of times. We have recognised the need for consistently high-quality health and wellbeing support for our staff, so they can better care for themselves and their patients. These changes must remain part of the blueprint of our NHS as we move forward together. ”

Local systems are being asked by the Government to develop their own People Plans alongside social care and public health partners, to ensure that recovery strategies are precisely tailored to local needs.

Further announcements are expected at the forthcoming spending review in the autumn, while future NHS education and training budgets have already been confirmed.

The Government is also expected to publish its Social Care Winter Plan, building on NHS support for the sector during Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the system has the support it needs in preparation for winter and for further Covid-19 spikes.


A “stop-gap” report?

The new plan has not come without criticism. Suzie Bailey, Director of Leadership and Organisational Development at The King’s Fund, commented: “it has been over a year since the plan was originally due to be launched. The publication is another interim stop-gap and falls a long way short of the workforce strategy the NHS so desperately needs. ” 

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said that he welcomed the plan’s recognition of the value of the health and care workforce, but went on to say that it lacks long-term-investment as no “new money” has yet been allocated for it. In his mind, the plan represents an instalment but “not the finished article”.

Mr Dickson said: “The Government must fulfil its pledge to provide a comprehensive and realistic multi-year settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn – a settlement which supports the ambitions in the plan to tackle a workforce crisis which every day places intolerable strains on staff. ”


Key actions from the NHS People Plan include: 

  • All NHS organisations will complete risk assessments for vulnerable staff, including BAME colleagues
  • Encouraging former staff to return to practice as part of a recruitment drive during 2020/21
  • New training grants to boost the mental health of the cancer workforce
  • A new drive for 5,000 clinical undergraduate places from September 2020
  • A £10m fund for new clinical placements
  • New requirements for providers to publish progress in improving BAME representation in every level of the workforce
  • The launch of a new national learning hub for volunteering and to improve training across the third sector
  • A new quarterly staff survey to track morale.

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