The British government has announced an upheaval of the NHS in England, by merging arm’s length bodies in charge of education and training, and digital transformation, with the health service in a step that they say “workforce and technology at the heart of long-term planning ”.
While the NHS is trying to clear a large waiting list, Sajid Javid, secretary of health and social care, accepted the recommendations of a review commissioned by Laura Wade-Gery, chair of NHS Digital, that her organization work with NHSX – the service’s digital innovation arm – needs to be brought under one roof to improve collaboration.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock, who resigned in June, created NHSX in an effort to put the NHS at the forefront of health technology. However, the agency stumbled during the pandemic, which delayed the launch of a Covid-19 contact tracking app last year.
Health Education England, responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, will also be admitted to the NHS.
The government announced an additional £ 30 billion for the NHS over the next three years in September and ministers are under pressure to make improvements, both to please voters and to reassure conservative MPs who are resting on the decision to increase national insurance contributions to finance the increase.
Javid said on Monday: “To ensure that our record NHS investment makes a lasting impact, I bring workforce planning and digital transformation to the heart of the NHS.”
The changes will “support our recovery of Covid-19 and help us tackle waiting lists to provide patients with excellent care in the years to come,” he added.
AmS Pritchard, NHS chief, said health care organizations “have worked more closely than ever to respond to the Covid pandemic and these changes build on that success”.
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers representing hospital, ambulance, mental health and community services, said there is a logic to placing overall responsibility for NHS workforce issues, which are so central to the NHS’s success, with NHS England . . He also understood the logic of centralizing the leadership of NHSX and NHS Digital in NHS England.
However, the organization’s challenge would be “to ensure adequate focus on the important, complex, and detailed work undertaken by these organizations in their current separate forms.” The NHS “still desperately needs a fully funded long-term workforce plan, no matter where the responsibilities lie,” Hopson added.
However, the move to abolish Health Education England, which was established under Lord Lansley’s reforms in 2012, as an independent body, will raise further questions about how much funding will be allocated to expand the workforce. This follows tensions between the treasury and health chiefs, who were reluctant to hand over part of their settlement to give HEE a boost after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unexpectedly failed to pass a specific budget for the organization in last month’s to announce budget.
Simon Stevens, who retired as CEO of NHS England in July, successfully kept the education and training budget separate when he negotiated a five-year funding agreement for the NHS in 2018. However, it will probably be difficult to maintain that position after he moves HEE’s functions to NHS England.
When the coronavirus struck, England’s health service was short of more than 100,000 staff – of whom about 40 per cent were nurses. The Health Foundation, a charity, estimates that another 4,000 doctors and 17,000 additional nurses will be needed to eliminate the backlog of 5.8 million patients whose care was disrupted by the pandemic.
Successive governments’ failure to meet the service’s workforce needs will be in the spotlight on Tuesday when MPs will debate an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, proposed by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. This will require ministers to publish independent workforce projections every two years to ensure that the pipeline of clinical staff in training meets future demand.