Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 14th November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour 4:30 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 47B, so ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Warner. I simply wish to emphasise some of the points that he has raised and some of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. The amendment is an attempt to fill a conspicuous gap in the Bill in relation to education and training-namely, to introduce at this stage the idea that we have a Health Education England. I recognise of course that we are waiting for further information from the Future Forum and that we should expect further legislation on this in due course, but this is a subject on which we cannot afford to wait. We need something in this Bill, if only to try to settle some of the many uncertainties that are so disabling for many out there. We cannot wait for a second Bill at some uncertain and probably distant time.

The White Paper Liberating the NHS: Developing the Healthcare Workforce is frankly disturbing in some of its recommendations. Putting responsibility for education and training at the local level entirely in the hands of provider networks-so-called local skills networks-is to my mind, and that of many I have spoken to, both dangerous and potentially damaging. Of course we need, and should have, local input in planning for local workforce needs. However, the standards of education and the level of skills and knowledge that patients deserve have to be set on a national scale. It is not helpful to have a healthcare worker trained solely for local needs who is unable to transfer to another part of the country without going through another local training scheme. Training must be transferable. For that we need national curricula, assessments and levels of achievement, so that when a new healthcare worker joins an organisation, the organisation can rely on that training.

At the moment, for medicine at least, the GMC sets the overall standard and the royal colleges and their specialist advisory committees provide all the curricula and set the exams, assessments and qualifications so that employers and patients can rely on the fact that a newly appointed cardiologist or surgeon, for example, has reached a recognised and approved standard on a national scale. However, most of the medical, nursing and other training takes place at the coal face: in the wards or in general practice by trainers who are themselves practitioners. Here, out and about, the postgraduate deans play the pivotal role because they oversee the whole process of training and planning of the workforce for their part of the country. The deans are the glue that makes it all happen. They control, of course, the budgets for the salaries of all the medical trainees. At the moment, they are employed by the strategic health authorities. When those authorities disappear, the current proposal is for them to be taken over by local provider skills networks. I have already suggested that it would be unfortunate if these bodies were purely NHS providers with little input from those with experience of what education and training entails. Providers may know something about what they want out of it at the end, but they are not set up to oversee and provide the education by themselves.

There are two things that must happen if we are to have a reliable system. First, Health Education England must be set up now, as this amendment suggests. This organisation should become a focus for the postgraduate deans and should probably be their employer. Secondly, we must make more use of the expertise in education that lies in the universities across the country. While universities are engaged in nurse education and that of some other healthcare workers, we must be one of the few countries in the world where universities play little or no formal role in postgraduate medical education. Of course, most clinical professors and their staff are engaged in teaching postgraduates, but the universities have no formal roles. It makes quite a bit of sense, therefore, to consider having the universities play a much bigger role in the local skills networks with the NHS providers. The postgraduate deans might indeed be employed by the universities if they are not to go into Health Education England, although I am not suggesting that their budgets go across to the universities-that may be a step too far.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether it would be possible for the deans to be seconded to the local university. It might well be a valuable outcome if the deans could then work closely with local NHS/academic partnerships rather than with NHS providers alone. The example of the academic/health service partnerships set up as collaborations between the NHS and universities to encourage research and the transfer of innovation into practice, as initiated at UCL, might be worth following, and I hope that it might find favour with the Minister. A new partnership built on this kind of model, with deans, providers and universities, and advice from the royal colleges and oversight from Health Education England, would, I believe, find a lot of favour. It would not be providers alone, and it would not be universities alone-where we have seen some of the difficulties associated with nurse education-but a balanced combination of the two. I hope that we can see something emerge along those lines. If that is seen to be the general direction of travel now, even if the detail comes later when we have seen the Future Forum's report, it will settle many of the anxieties that exist.

I understand that there is an intention to set up an interim Health Education England some time next year, but unless it is given the budget for education, some £5 billion a year, and if the money is instead diffused into local skills networks in the meanwhile, I fear that it will be lost for ever. That is why we should have a clear statement in the Bill now about Health Education England and its funding.

The other part of the amendment refers to the need to ensure that the funding for education and training is not eroded in the changeover, and I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort there, too.

I know that there is much more work to be done by the Government, but we should not leave this until some uncertain future. We must have something a little more concrete in this Bill, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help us.