FE should have a bigger role in addressing NHS challenges 

We need to rethink the way we’re recruiting and training the future NHS workforce and Bolton is showing how it might be done, explains Bill Webster

We need to rethink the way we’re recruiting and training the future NHS workforce and Bolton is showing how it might be done, explains Bill Webster

7 Jan 2023, 5:00

Rarely does a week go by without a headline about the NHS being in crisis. This points to some fundamental, systemic issues – not least chronic staffing shortages across the healthcare sector as a whole.

We need to rethink the way we’re recruiting and training the future NHS workforce. We must take stock of how effectively local government and health and education providers are working together to ensure regional skills provision aligns with the changing needs of regional health and social care landscapes.

This means giving both FE and HE much greater involvement in developing workforce strategy. Currently, there is no formal role carved out for education providers within the Integrated Care System (ICS) – the framework established in 2022 that sees local organisations come together in each of England’s 42 regions, to deliver ‘joined-up’ health and care services. This is a missed opportunity that should urgently be reviewed.

In Bolton, we recognised that a closer partnership between the NHS, the university and the college could significantly improve strategic workforce planning.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust identified the need to improve on-site technical training to meet the needs of future care delivery. And so, for the past four years, the trust, college, University of Bolton, and Bolton council have been working together on developing a new technical skills-training facility located at the hospital.

Bolton College of Medical Sciences (BCMS), a £40 million project funded by the university and the levelling up fund, is currently being built and will open in 2024, training approximately 3,000 learners annually.

The trust has granted us the space, and together with the university, Bolton College has been entrusted to lead on curriculum development and delivery. This has seen us take a new approach in mapping the strategic and operational workforce development requirements with the trust, and in creating a bespoke curriculum response.

There is clear benefit to closer collaboration between healthcare and education

We are working across all of the trust’s operational functions, identifying new training and apprenticeship opportunities in everything from nursing and midwifery to leadership and management, digital and IT provision.

This has enabled us to design new pathways that create greater opportunities in healthcare. The Bolton College and university partnership will offer introductions to FE and HE courses, as well as T levels in health, apprenticeships and traditional provision at levels 3 through 7, new HTQs and other commercial CPD provision.

Crucially, it will optimise access and progression in an attempt to increase the ‘grow-your-own’ culture for the Greater Manchester Integrated Care Partnership (ICP).I In turn, this will optimise local employment and career opportunities and improve standards in local healthcare provision.

BCMS is part of the University of Bolton Group’s vertically integrated model, which includes a STEM Academy, Bolton College, Alliance Learning (a private training provider) and the university itself.

This means that, in essence, a local learner could start with a STEM-focused curriculum at age 11 and progress through a technical route into an apprenticeship or traditional degree, with work placements or employment at the hospital or elsewhere within the ICP.

By being located on site, the learning provision at BCMS will be part of the trust’s operational environment, and college and university teaching staff will be augmented by clinical professionals both for delivery and for end-point assessment. This will mean a fully-integrated FE/HE/employer-delivered and -assessed curriculum – a first in Greater Manchester and across the UK clinical and medical sector.

The message is this: there is clear benefit to closer collaboration between local healthcare providers and their FE/HE partners. However, we need a proactive approach in identifying the skills required to deliver future operational strategy and designing and delivering an appropriate curriculum response.

Our progress will be followed closely in Greater Manchester. Indeed, BCMS is expected to be seen as a blueprint to create similar facilities across the region. But this is a national problem, requiring solutions that reach beyond regional boundaries. In the meantime,  we’re happy to talk to other FE colleges about what they can do to work more closely with their local NHS partners.

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