Moved by Baroness Merron
At end insert “but that this House regrets that the explanatory memorandum to the Health Education England (Transfer of Functions, Abolition and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2023 does not offer sufficient evidence to support the change; that the information provided on the potential costs and savings from this reorganisation are unspecified and vague; that the Regulations have not been published alongside His Majesty’s Government’s promised NHS Workforce Plan; and that they do not guarantee that NHS England will give long-term workforce issues sufficient priority”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this draft statutory instrument, which facilitates the merger of the body responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, Health Education England, with NHS England, with the purpose of improving long-term workforce planning and strategy for the recruitment of NHS staff. I would also like to express my appreciation of the work of Health Education England and acknowledge the contribution of staff who have worked within that organisation. I am also grateful to the Minister for his initial response to the points raised in the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper.
As noble Lords will know, on these Benches we are very committed to long-term workforce planning for the NHS and for social care, which requires independent workforce projections. Once again, I have to say, it is staggering that the NHS has not had a workforce plan since 2003—and still we wait. In answer to the much-asked question about the publication of the workforce plan, your Lordships’ House and the other place have been told that it would be “soon”. The meaning of the word “soon”, I do feel, has been somewhat overstretched, and I know the Minister understands that point. So, to repeat the question: when will the workforce plan be published? And can the Minister indicate what will be the role of NHS England within the workforce plan?
In earlier debates about the merger of NHS Digital and NHS England, the point was rightly made that talented expertise has to be retained. Given that, in this case, we are looking at an estimated cut of up to 40% in workforce numbers, this point bears repeating. Could the Minister provide an update on how the work on retaining talent and expertise is progressing? What assurances can he give to your Lordships’ House that the staff are being treated fairly throughout this process? Could the Minister also set out what specific service improvements are anticipated because of the merger and what metrics the department will use to judge NHS England’s performance, given its new remit?
I am grateful to the BMA for its contribution, which highlights areas of concern it has picked up from practitioners. I hope the Minister can assist with allaying those concerns, which I will now set out. Doctors are anxious that these changes could devalue the importance of supporting education and training, compared with the desire to increase service delivery during an ongoing workforce crisis. How will this be guarded against?
There are also concerns that the reduced size of the new NHS England will damage its ability to deliver support to junior doctors and negatively affect the day-to-day running of postgraduate training programmes, which are currently supported by the local offices of Health Education England. Can the Minister give reassurance on this point?
Finally, there is a question about NHS England’s ability to adhere to the minimum standards set out in the code of practice on the provision of information for postgraduate training. I hope the Minister can also assist by responding on this point.
Although we on these Benches will not oppose these regulations, I now turn to the substance of my amendment and draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which says:
“The Explanatory Memorandum describes what the instrument does in quite legal terms but does not offer evidence to support the policy by setting out the costs and benefits anticipated from this transition. We have received further information from the Department … which is published in Appendix 1 but despite our enquiries the information on the costs and savings from this reorganisation remains quite vague.”
In addition to these points, my amendment notes that
“the Regulations have not been published alongside His Majesty’s Government’s promised NHS Workforce Plan; and that they do not guarantee that NHS England will give long-term workforce issues sufficient priority”.
I heard the Minister’s initial response, but I feel he has spoken of promises of delivery in the future, so could he explain how the shortcomings, which have been criticised by the committee and in the context of the amendment, have arisen and how he will seek to address them in full?
Although there is no fundamental problem with the general policy of abolishing Health Education England and transferring its responsibilities to NHS England, once again the presentation, content and communication has been somewhat lacking. The SLSC has been damning of the regulations’ Explanatory Memorandum, which, as the committee says, does not provide sufficient evidence to support the policy, or set out the costs or savings clearly enough. This is clearly unacceptable, so could the Minister—this, again, is a repeat question for him—confirm what steps he has taken to ensure that important regulations such as these are properly and thoroughly brought before the House?
More broadly, and to return to where I started, these regulations are before us without reference to the broader NHS workforce plan, and it is this for which we still wait. Absorbing Health Education England into NHS England before knowing the number of health workers it will need to educate and train really does feel like putting the cart before the horse. The NHS is nothing without its workforce, yet we are still unsighted on how many doctors, nurses, care staff and allied health professionals we will need in five, 10 or 20 years’ time. Can the Minister set out the reasons behind this delay? Is it a matter of cost, or is it some kind of disagreement within government as to what the NHS needs and what the Government are prepared to commit to? I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much appreciate the opportunity that the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, has given to the House to debate this reorganisation on the back of her regret amendment. In preparation for this, I had a look at Health Education England’s website; it is always good to look at the thing you are abolishing. It is worth quoting in full what it says about itself:
“Health Education England … exists for one reason only: to support the delivery of excellent healthcare and health improvement to the patients and public of England by ensuring that the workforce of today and tomorrow has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours, at the right time and in the right place.”
That would perhaps be an appropriate motto for the Minister to have. It is timeless: we want people to be focused on that mission of delivering the right people with the right skills at the right time and in the right place.
Again, I looked at the history of the body. It was set up as a special health authority in 2012. I imagined that it was something we had had for years, but no, it was set up in 2012 and became a non-departmental body in 2014. So in about a decade we have gone from wanting a body with a singular focused mission to saying, “No, that’s a disaster; it needs to now be fully integrated into a much bigger body in order to be able to deliver”. I fear we have seen this again and again; we had it with NHS Digital. A group of people got together a decade or so ago and said that the important thing is that all these functions have a team that is solely dedicated to delivering workforce, digital or whatever, and 10 years later the fashion has changed. The Minister makes a reasonable argument that you would not now have a separate HR function. Clearly, a decade ago, we thought that was exactly what we should do, and we spent time and money constructing this thing. Now we are spending time and money destructing it.
There is a risk that we end up mistaking circular motion for forward motion. It is still motion—we are moving things around—but there is a risk that we are not making progress. I will explain why we need to have really serious measures to understand whether we are doing that; otherwise, I fear we will back here in five or 10 years’ time, with people standing at the Dispatch Box arguing why we need to separate all these functions out, because merging them into NHS England meant that we lost focus.
The one group of people that will continue to make money out of this is the consultants. I note we are told in the Explanatory Memorandum that they were paid £1 million plus VAT to create this reorganisation. I am sure a similar group was paid £1 million plus VAT to spin out HEE when it was originally set up, and we will see this again with all the different parts of the health service. We spend money and we reorganise. Even if we support the latest organisation, we in this House need to continue to hold the Government’s feet to the fire, whoever they are, to say, “Prove that the reorganisation was worth the money”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, is quite right to keep bringing us back to the information in the Explanatory Memorandum and the reports we get from the scrutiny committee. We are given explicit information about the costs. We are told that it is £1 million plus VAT for the consultants and another £1 million for staff costs, so a couple of million pounds here and there for direct costs. The savings are much less clear. We are told they are £1.3 million because we no longer need a separate board; then the big savings are wrapped up in this aspirational 40% for all of these reorgs into NHS England, but we are not given any more detail than that. I know the current body of staff in Health Education England is some 2,000 people, overseeing approximately £5 billion of expenditure, so there is clearly a lot of scope for potential savings.
I ask the Minister to make a firm commitment that the Government will come back and that future NHS England reports will give the kind of detail we need in order to understand whether those savings were realised. When these reorgs happen, there is a risk that NHS England’s future reports will be structured in a way that disguises the savings so that we cannot pull them out. It would help the House and the public if, when NHS England reports in a year’s time, there is a separate item that says, “For NHS Digital, we did or did not realise these savings”, and, for Health Education England and the education functions, “This is how many staff we now have working on it and that is why we think we are getting better value for money from the budget”.
From an accountancy point of view, you can go either way: you can either try to hide things by smushing them all up together or try to make them explicit by ensuring that the data is there. I hope that the Minister will commit so that we can come back at this time of year in 2024, 2025 and 2026—I recognise that this will take time to play out—to see whether this reorganisation has had the effect. This would inform the debate next time we are asked to reorganise; I am sure we will be told every time that they will make savings.
Finally, the substantive point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, is around the workforce plan. We can repeat our previous exhortations: that this is desperately needed; I know the Minister agrees that it is desperately needed. There are concerns that the reason it is being held up is that the funding is not there. Every time we see good news—the pay settlement for nurses and others is good news—a little bit of us asks where they will find the money; we hope they will not find the money by cutting in other areas. We need continual reassurance that the workforce plan will be accompanied by the money that will be needed to deliver it, and that we will not see it shaved away as it goes through the process of finalisation. That might be partly why we want it quickly. Once it is published, it is much harder to step back. The fear is that, the longer it takes, the more likely it is that there will be a process of salami slicing and the bold, ambitious workforce plan, which I am sure the Minister and his colleagues in the department supported, ends up “Treasury-fied” and no longer quite as ambitious as it was.
Finally on the workforce plan, we are talking about the NHS and we are rolling Health Education England into NHS England. As we have discussed many times in this House, health and social care are intimately related in terms of being able to deliver for people out there and being able to run an efficient service. I hope the Minister will at least be able to say that this reorganisation will not negatively impact joined-up workforce planning across both sectors. Ideally, I hope he will be able to say that there will be some positive impact from this reorganisation in terms of making sure that social care staff numbers correspond with the increase in NHS staff that he knows we need.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a relatively new non-executive director of NHS England, appointed together with two expert doctors to give clinical input to the board and tackle the issues that have just been discussed. However, I want to put on record that I think Health Education England has been a success and has set up sound processes that have enabled a good estimation of the workforce needed for the next 15 years.
The workforce plan is in draft and is being considered by the Government, but I want to underline the fact that, without sufficient funding, it will not achieve what everybody wants it to achieve. I believe that making it mainstream in NHS England should mean that, working with the ICBs, we have a sound approach for the future. I am aware that the two previous speakers will be able to hold NHS England to account on whether we get it right or not. I felt that I should be here this afternoon to say that I think it will work, but only because of the sound foundation that NHS Education has left behind.
I also want to echo one concern: that we have to calculate social care needs within the workforce development plan, in particular the needs of leaders of teams in social care, who are often nurses or allied health professionals such as physiotherapists. On that note, I will sit down; I wanted to express my current understanding of the situation.
My Lords, I wish to add briefly to the very useful and interesting debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, has stimulated with her amendment. In so doing, I point out my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I support the general direction of the merger. I can see why HR functions need to be streamlined together rather than partly devolved and partly in NHS England. The Minister quite rightly pointed out his business background; I have a background in organisational development and public sector reform, not necessarily in the UK but in Africa and south-east Asia. One of the key failures in the public sector when these organisational structures happen, predominantly for cost reduction reasons—it is always said by those leading them that cost reduction is not the reason, but it is important—is that there are no measurements for success in three, five, 10 and 15 years. Without that, you get a structure without understanding how the structure will deliver exactly what is needed.
So, what are the measurements for success in three, five, 10 and 15 years? Without those, everyone can say there is a target, but no one knows what that target, or bull’s-eye, really is. What are the clear measurements within three, five, 10 and 15 years? If they are not there, how do we know what success looks like based on what the merger was about in the first place? That is really important.
The other part of this is that you can have all the training and numbers you like for the workforce, but if the support, conditions and culture are not right, people will leave, as they are doing now in parts of the NHS. In certain specialties, you cannot get a doctor for money, no matter how much you offer. Part of that is about working conditions, culture and support. How does this merger deal not just with numbers and education but more holistically with the culture and support? For example, in many trusts, junior doctors cannot even get a meal in the evening. You can have all the numbers you want in terms of training, but if people decide not to work because of the conditions, how does that help holistically? How do we ensure we have not just the training and numbers but the culture and support within organisations so that people decide to go and work there?
My final question is simple. All noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned social care. As I said, my question is simple: how does this plan link with a plan for the social care workforce? What problems are envisaged and what mitigation has been put in place to ensure, first, that the two plans work in tandem and, eventually, as a long-term aim —I have heard Ministers talk about this—that staff will be able to move across the organisational divide? How will the links be there? What mitigation is being put in against the risks for a social care plan and a healthcare plan? This is important because people who start with a health problem then require social care to make as good and independent a life as possible. It is important that, when the Government start on one plan, they understand the linkage with the other and the mitigations needed. I hope that the Minister can put the mitigations in place.
As I said, in general, I understand the reasons for this but there are serious questions that the Minister needs to answer to ensure the maximum impact from this merger.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate. As ever, I will attempt to answer the questions as best I can, and I will come back in writing with the details.
First, on when the workforce plan will be published, forgive me for this answer but I cannot resist it. I looked on the HEE website and it will be delivered “at the right time and in the right place”. I could not resist that one. I think the term I am allowed to use is “shortly”, which is different from “soon”, but I will let noble Lords decide. Seriously, however, there is a very detailed plan. While I acknowledge that there are concerns about delays and this being “Treasury-fied”, at the same time, serious questions have been raised, as we would expect. This is leading to a lot more thinking, which is the right thing to happen, provided we come out with the right answer. I hope noble Lords understand that work is going on to ensure deliverability.
I will try to answer the many questions asked, particularly on what the measures of success will be, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. From my point of view—it may be personal—we are publishing the workforce plan and the measure of success will be how well this body performs against that. It will not be down to that body alone; it is part of the newly merged entity. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, it is about recruitment, training and retention.
A key issue, as I know from being tangentially involved in some of the conversations with unions in the last few weeks, is a real recognition on our part that pay is a core issue, but so are things such as hot meals, rest areas for staff and parking. Some of those issues are important “health factors”, if you will excuse the pun, and we are very alive to them.
Turning to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lords, Lord Allan and Lord Scriven, as I say, it is about looking at savings across the piece. As noble Lords will know, we are talking about quite a considerable structure. The average trust is run by 300 or 400 admin staff; an ICB has 700 staff; a region has 650 to 700 staff; the NHS itself, at the centre, has 4,000 staff; and the Department of Health and Social Care accounts for another 3,500 to 4,000 staff. I think we would all agree that layer upon layer of management is not good, from not only a cost and efficiency point of view but a management point of view. We all talk about our various backgrounds, and speaking from mine, the fewer layers you have between the so-called management and the front line, the better. That is the wider picture of what we are trying to do here.
I totally agree. I think Tesco, for example, has four levels of management between the customer and the chief executive. But I hope the Minister understands that, regardless of layers—this may not make me popular outside this place—the NHS is one of the most effective health services in western healthcare in terms of management costs. I hope the Minister does not take the populist view that having a go at the managers suddenly makes savings. We have to get the balance right. On comparators, the NHS is significantly well placed in the western world in terms of its cost ratio of managers to patient care. I hope the Minister will accept that.
The noble Lord is right: it is about the effectiveness of the layers. I come at this from the view, “How do we make this most effective?” That is the major gain to be won from all this.
The noble Baroness is right to bring up the issue concerning the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I have spoken to all the staff in the DHSC about it, and I have given assurances to the House on the importance we attach to it. I am meeting the Leaders of both Houses tomorrow to discuss how we are working to make improvements in this space. Hopefully, we are making progress.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, for her contribution. It is fantastic to have her on the board, given her experience. Several noble Lords asked about the social care element. As we know, the situation is slightly different because most people in the social care space are employed by third-party organisations. There will not be a direct read across, but the Minister will be announcing shortly the next version of People at the Heart of Care, which aims to address a number of issues. It is probably best to wait for that, and we can take it from there.
I have tried to cover as many of the issues raised as possible, and I am quite happy to follow up in writing any I have missed. Reassurance was sought regarding current training budgets, pointing out that, while we want to make savings where possible, we need to know they are being made in the right place. A separate board structure is being set up within the organisation to make sure that such matters are separately scrutinised and not lost within the overall picture, because it is understood how vital that is. These are all elements I will try to cover more completely in a written response.
That is a helpful answer. To be clear, you can have a separate board, but if the budget is not ring-fenced, all that they are scrutinising is a smaller budget. I think the question that was asked—although maybe not specifically—was, will the training budgets be ring-fenced and will the board therefore be looking after a ring-fenced budget?
I think that is probably one element I need to come back to the noble Lord on in writing.
As I said, I will try to follow up the questions in detail. I welcome the contributions of various noble Lords and their understanding of what we are trying to do here. I understand the arguments, as an ex-management consultant, regarding centralisation versus decentralisation and how they go in and out of fashion. This is a slightly different case because it is about bringing a core function in house. To me, that is the key change and the key thing we will be seeking to measure. As well as setting out clinical needs, the key role of the NHS at its centre is making sure that it is recruiting, training and retaining talent to meet the workforce plan needs. On that note, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and hope that my follow-up answers any questions that I missed.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and to the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate: the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Allan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. I did smile when the noble Baroness gave us an update on the workforce plan, which I am sure was helpful to the Minister, and I also wish her well in her new role.
As the Minister and your Lordships’ House will have equally understood, this is not about the actual steps that are being taken. We have had a useful debate to pull out some aspects, but the regret Motion is about the workforce and, in particular, the failure to have produced a workforce plan. This is not something recent from the last year or so. We have to remind ourselves that this Government have been in government for 13 years, and still we wait. For every day we wait, we lose an opportunity—as noble Lords have said—to plan for the future, as well as to deal with the immediate, and that is what motivated me to put forward this amendment.
We are all in agreement today that a workforce plan has to be for health and social care, which are inextricably linked, and has to not sit on the fence—well, it may; we will see. The plan has to not sit on a shelf but be fully resourced and do the job it is intended to do. We will look forward to holding the Minister to account on that point, as I know he expects.
Regrettably, I do not believe that in this debate the Minister has addressed the shortcomings of the regulations before us. Those shortcomings are somewhat unnecessary, which is a great shame because overall the statutory instrument is one that will be beneficial. It is a shame that we have had to debate it in this fashion. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.