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University groups call for new health education taskforce

A coalition of education leaders has called for the creation of a new cross-government health education taskforce, to help deliver the commitments in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

In a jointly written letter to the secretaries of state for health and education, the university groups have said the taskforce would ensure greater collaboration across the sectors, to achieve the goals set out in the plan.

“Without coordination, we risk the long-term sustainability of changes made and adding undue pressure on the NHS”

Letter to the government

The letter has been co-written and signed by the chief executives of the University Alliance, the Council of Deans of Health, the Russell Group, GuildHE and London Higher.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published in June last year, laid out a series of ambitious commitments to address the current shortfall of health staff in the NHS over the next 15 years.

The plan promised to increase the number of nursing training places by 80% to 53,858 by 2031-32.

In addition, it pledged to increase the proportion of student nurses training through apprenticeships from the current 9% to 28% over the same period.

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In the letter, education leaders said they were “fully supportive” of the plan and its aim to train more nurses, midwives, doctors, GPs, dentists and allied health professionals.

They noted progress that had been made already by the government in meeting the target of 50,000 additional registered nurses in England, as well as the work being undertaken by NHS England to engage with the education sector.

However, the letter highlighted data released last week from the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), which found that applications to nursing courses at UK universities had fallen for a third year in a row.

As such, leaders warned that there was “considerably more to do to realise the ambitious long-term goals of the plan” and to secure the workforce required to meet the changing needs of the population.

“The training and education of healthcare professionals requires careful planning to overcome barriers such as capacity constraints on medical schools, limited number of educators and availability of clinical placements,” said the letter.

The letter called for a ministerial gross-government health education taskforce to coordinate delivery of the long term plan.

This taskforce would bring together representatives from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to meet alongside representatives from NHS England, health regulators, local government and higher education providers.

The letter said: “The taskforce could, for instance, effectively coordinate activity to bolster student recruitment, work to find ways of increasing the capacity of clinical placements and medical school places and develop strategies for the recruitment and retention of staff.

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“Additionally, our universities could help realise the long-term plan’s ambitious targets for healthcare degree apprenticeships, and to tackle the low funding and high regulatory burden associated with delivering them.”

Health and education leaders added that the taskforce would also allow organisations “to take a holistic view of the barriers to training and expansion”.

“Without coordination, we risk the long-term sustainability of changes made and adding undue pressure on the NHS,” said the letter.

Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, said that the recent UCAS data meant “the need for a unified approach to secure the future pipeline of healthcare workers is becoming ever more critical”.

She added: “This collaborative approach will ensure greater join-up between government departments, the NHS and the universities who educate the NHS workforce of the future.”

In addition, Joanna Burton, head of policy for higher education at the Russell Group, said: “The long-term workforce plan is rightly ambitious in its approach to boosting the vital pipeline of healthcare staff to the NHS.

“Universities will be central to the success, delivering more medical school training and degree apprenticeships, but this expansion will require careful planning and co-ordination.”

Meanwhile, a Council of Deans of Health spokesperson told Nursing Times that the organisation had “consistently called for better join-up between health and education sectors at all levels”.

They said: “We were glad to stand with other university sector bodies in asking for this cross-government taskforce.

“Our recent manifesto paper is underpinned by the principle of delivering a sustainable health care workforce through a joint endeavour, led from the top with cross-departmental work and shared responsibility between DHSC and DfE.”

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DHSC and the DfE were contacted for comment.

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