New health secretary Matt Hancock has pledged to “fight” for health and care staff, and to launch a consultation exercise across a range of issues facing the health service workforce.
Specifically, the exercise will consider issues such as bullying and harassment in the workplace, diversity and how to establish more pathways for nurses and other clinicians into leadership roles.
In his first speech since becoming Health and Social Care Secretary earlier this month, Nursing Times understands that Mr Hancock will “outline his admiration for health and care staff”.
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He will also use the speech on Friday to vow to give staff the level of support and training they need to “thrive” and outline the plans for the consultation on workforce issues.
Firstly, Mr Hancock will underline his admiration for the dedication shown by staff every day, vowing to give them the same level of support and commitment they show to their patients.
“I have a clear message: I value you. I admire you. I will fight for you and I will champion you”
He will say: “The nation’s health is determined by the health of the health and care workforce. So it is heart-breaking to see how undervalued you often feel.
“The sense of duty and public service that motivates you to go into health and care is one of the things that make the NHS the institution it is,” he will tell hospital staff at West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust.
“I am determined that the commitment you show to your patients is matched by the commitment we show to you,” he said. I have a clear message: I value you. I admire you. I will fight for you and I will champion you.”
He will also outline the importance of staff receiving the best training and support so people are able to deliver the safest, highest quality of care.
“I want to ensure training is organised and funded so that everyone can reach their full potential,” Mr Hancock will say.
“I want to support nurses in acute hospitals so they can become advanced nurse practitioners, providing more comprehensive care for patients, while freeing up doctors to carry out more of the tasks they trained to do,” he will say.
“And I want to expand the apprenticeships in both health and social care that in a previous job I introduced,” he will say. “Everyone should have a ladder they can climb and a career they can develop.”
“People cannot be expected to deliver world class care when facing bullying and harassment on this scale”
He will add: “You know better than me the pace at which modern medicine moves and so it’s crucial that your training looks to incorporate new technology that can save you time and offer better care.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock will highlight that more needs to be done to bring talent in to senior leadership roles in the NHS, acknowledging that diversity at senior levels is still an issue.
“Crucially, we also need talent from outside at all levels – to develop a strong and diverse pipeline of capable leaders willing to bring their talents to health and care,” he will say.
In addition, he will note that increasing diversity among NHS leadership roles is “critical”, with only five trust chief executives currently from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
“In many areas diversity is thriving. But not everywhere. And speaking frankly, the NHS leadership community must do more to reflect the wider workforce,” he will say.
“Speaking frankly, the NHS leadership community must do more to reflect the wider workforce”
On a similar issue, he will say: “I was horrified that in the last [NHS] staff survey 12% of staff felt discriminated against. People cannot be expected to deliver world class care when facing bullying and harassment on this scale.
“In both health and social care, I want your voice to be at the heart of government,” he will say. “To make this happen I’m going to launch a consultation exercise on workforce issues.
“And I’ll be setting up a panel of clinical and professional advisers, from a cross-section of the NHS and social care workforce,” he will say.
Other areas expected to be touched upon during the speech include a particular focus on technology and how, if applied correctly, it can save both time and money – while improving patient safety.
As part of this, to transform technology in hospitals £412m will be made available to improve patient care, make every pound go further and allow more patients to access health services at home.
A further £75m is available to hospital trusts to put in place electronic systems that save money and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50%, compared to paper systems.
He will also point to existing technological innovations like Scan4Safety, where barcode tracking in hospitals is enabling staff to track patients, manage supplies and the effectiveness of equipment.
“We are really encouraged by this focus on our health and care staff”
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We are really encouraged by this focus on our health and care staff and to hear that the health secretary is prepared to fight for them.
“It is much-needed and long-overdue, especially when we know it is the skills and commitment of staff that ensures high-quality care,” she said.
She added: “The health and care workforce now seeks his support for increasing staffing levels, attracting more people into nurse training and investment in experienced professionals too – with all given the tools they need and a fair reward for their work.”
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “Hardworking health staff will be heartened by the government’s new focus on the NHS workforce, and its commitment to tackling the issues that have such an impact on how they do their jobs.
“It’s reassuring that the health secretary acknowledges the huge scale of the task ahead to reverse years of damaging staff shortages, and a bullying culture that’s prompted many to leave jobs they love,” she said.
“A comprehensive, fully funded training programme is long overdue for all staff,” said Ms Gorton. “Those doing non-clinical jobs play a vital role too in caring for patients. They should also have opportunities to learn new skills and move into better paid, more highly skilled work.
“Listening to the views of staff across the health service through their unions, and acting on suggestions made, will stand the NHS in good stead as it strives to care for all those that will need its support in the years to come,” she added.
“NHS trust leaders tell us that concerns over staffing are their number one problem”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “It is encouraging that Matt Hancock has been so quick to recognise the urgency of some of the workforce challenges facing health and social care. NHS trust leaders tell us that concerns over staffing are their number one problem.
“We strongly endorse Mr Hancock’s commitment to tackle bullying and discrimination, and to promoting diversity at leadership level, and we look forward to contributing to the forthcoming consultation,” she said. “We have taken some steps but recognise there is still much more to do.”
She added: “We also welcome Mr Hancock’s focus on the opportunities presented by digital technology to support better care for patients, and to improve efficiency. It is vital in the coming months that he engages with frontline trusts to develop these priorities, to make sure they can be translated into action.”
Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These are very encouraging words and we look forward to working with the new health secretary.
“It is important that the message about valuing staff and valuing their expertise, professionalism and contribution to safe and high quality care is recognised right at the top of the NHS,” said Ms Walton.
“We now need to see his government’s commitment to 3,000 additional midwives over the next three years delivered, and to see a continuation of fairer pay for NHS staff following the recent pay award. His focus on access to support and training is also heartening as this is crucial to ensuring NHS staff are delivering the best possible care,” she added.