A new taskforce will challenge weak workforce proposals in sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), the regulator NHS Improvement has revealed
Dr Ruth May, NHS Improvement’s executive director of nursing, said she was worried about what she called a “divergence” away from trusts’ operational plans, and forecasts of large reductions in nursing staff in some STPs.
“The workforce elements of the STPs are in my opinion the weakest parts”
In January last year, NHS England gathered together local health and social care organisations into 44 groups to cover geographical population “footprints” around England.
NHS leaders set the groups the aim to both make services more efficient and also move away from acute models in favour of more community provision. Their plans, or STPs, have now been published in draft form.
Dr May said workforce plans were the “weakest” parts of the STP process, adding the plans had a long way to go to demonstrate they would have sufficient staff to maintain patient care.
NHS Improvement has said a taskforce, made up of senior nursing figures from arm’s length bodies, including NHS Improvement and NHS England, has been set up to examine, and where necessary challenge, STPs’ workforce plans.
The group started its work last month. It is unclear which STPs are being looked at and whether the team has achieved any changes to the plans.
Unpublished STP proposals revealed last month show NHS organisations are planning to employ thousands fewer nurses and other staff in the next few years.
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Dr May, who is also deputy chief nursing officer for England, said: “I think we have seen there is a divergence between what is in the operational plans and what is in the STPs, and the workforce elements of the STPs are in my opinion the weakest parts.
“There is a risk that we could see some systems making the same mistakes as the [long term financial model] and making the money add up, and not concentrating on what workforce they need,” she said in an interview with Health Service Journal.
“Workforce is part of the solutions to this but workforce working differently, taking down the barriers and working in new models of care,” she said. “We will still need to make sure we have sufficient registered nurses and a multi-professional workforce that is safe for patient care and STPs have a long way to go before they can demonstrate that.”
“We need to go in there to provide a bit of advice, guidance and challenge as appropriate”
Mark Radford, director of nursing improvement at NHS Improvement, told the journal that the taskforce would provide “appropriate challenge”.
He added: “We are rightly going back to the system to ask why the operational plans are doing one thing and the STPs are another.
“Some of the plans are in really good shape and provide some real opportunity to get the system right for patients and clients, and they should be applauded and given support to be able to make some of these changes,” he said.
“Where the weaker ones are unclear we need to go in there to provide a bit of advice, guidance and challenge as appropriate,” Mr Radford told Health Service Journal.
Nurse staffing shortage is ‘top priority’ for regulator
The taskforce was looking “at the broad church of all the plans recognising those that have got some really sound and credible plans for development and those that need more work”, he said.
Dr May added that she was worried about the effect of Brexit on the NHS workforce, after new figures revealed by Nursing Times showed the number of staff from the EU registered with the Nursing Midwifery Council had dropped significantly since last year’s referendum.
She said: “Brexit is genuinely worrying. We are starting to see Brexit bite.”