New Clause 18 - Workforce responsibilities of integrated care boards

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 27th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

“(1) Each integrated care board must at least every two years publish a report setting out an analysis of the current workforce, the workforce requirements to enable the Board to fulfil its duties over the following 2, 5 and 10 years, and the plans the Board has to close any gaps identified.

(2) In drawing up the report the Board must consult—

(a) the Trusts and Foundation Trusts that provide services in its area,

(b) providers of primary care in its area, and

(c) the recognised trade unions.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We are back on the workforce. We had a brief discussion about the proposals in clause 33 on the Secretary of State and workforce planning, and how they are by universal acclaim wholly inadequate. Now is not the time to repeat that debate, although I may shoehorn in one or two references to it. We hope that at some point there will be a better proposal on the national efforts to assess and meet workforce needs.

The new clause tries to repeat the intentions of the amendment to clause 33, and to take some of that thinking and translate it to ICB level. That makes a lot of sense to us, and in an ideal world some of the national plan would be made up of individual local assessments of need and add together the 42 ICBs into one national workforce plan. We will see where we end up with that. As I said, we have had some attempt at this with each STP trying to produce its own plan to a very abrupt timetable. I do not think anyone actually added up all their assessments to come up with a national figure. Because of the truncated timetable they faced, there was not a great deal of engagement with the workforce on that.

There is therefore a bit of a precedent in the work that was done on that. It is probably what you would call a gap analysis: what is needed against what we are likely have unless something is done to close that gap. The new clause follows that approach, which has had some support in some other areas. We felt that a two-year cycle was about right, with reporting on that two-year cycle covering short, medium and longer-term need.

It is hard to see why we will not have local plans if we are going to have national plans, to make sure that there is alignment when, as we hope, the Government come back with something better on clause 33. Looking at the total staff in the NHS and social care for an ICS, some of the larger ones will be running into hundreds of thousands of people. It is hard to think of any system with that many staff where some sort of workforce planning is not going on. If we are looking at things across system level, as the ICS is, surely workforce needs across the system would be part of that. We know that ICBs, together with the relevant trusts and foundation trusts, have the general duty to produce a plan annually, setting out how they propose to exercise their functions over the next five years. They will not be able to do that without the right staff.

A lot of the ground work entailed in the new clause will have been done already. It is our intention that it will try to remove any possibility of blame shifting, where inadequate resources lead to reduced services and the service providers are blamed, rather than those who hold the purse strings in Whitehall. The reporting required by the new clause will make it clear whether there are enough staff to meet all the reasonable requirements of the ICB.

The other key point covered by the new clause is who is consulted in the local planning process. We believe it vital that recognised trade unions are involved. That should be a given anyway, in the light of the general commitments from the NHS over partnership working, but as we have covered before, we think that needs to be explicit in the legislation because of the behaviour of a few NHS bodies in trying to marginalise staff involvement in recent times.

The ICBs will new bodies, and they will need to understand the importance of partnership working from day one. If the levelling-up and devolution agendas are to continue to flourish, surely the regional and sub-regional identification and development of skills in this important area ought to be part of the mix. It feels, I am afraid, as though the whole issue of workforce is being assiduously side-stepped by the Department. That is the Department’s prerogative, but it is a mistake and it is those on the frontline who will bear the brunt. We need someone to take responsibility, so why not the ICBs?

Without its workforce, the NHS is nothing. We are grateful to each and every one of its staff for the work that they do. We owe it to them, the patients and the taxpayer to have in place a proper system of workforce planning. Although we do not pretend that the new clause is the whole answer, it would begin to put in place the building blocks to achieve that.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The new clause would place a new statutory responsibility on integrated care boards to publish, at least every two years,

“a report setting out an analysis of the current workforce, the workforce requirements to enable the Board to fulfil its duties over the following 2, 5 and 10 years, and the plans the Board has to close any gaps identified.”

Under the new clause, ICBs drawing up that report would be placed under a statutory duty of consultation with the trusts and foundation trusts in their area, providers of primary care and the recognised trade unions. The Government’s view is that that is an unnecessarily prescriptive duty on ICBs, and that clause 33 —alongside our non-legislative work and investment—remains the right way to develop the NHS workforce.

On the workforce nationally, what is needed is greater transparency and accountability for the various bodies involved in workforce planning. Clause 33 requires the Secretary of State to produce a report describing the workforce planning and supply system—including the roles of DHSC and its arm’s length bodies; NHS bodies, including ICBs and others; and how they work together—to provide that greater transparency.

To support local ICBs on workforce matters, work is already being taken forward on workforce planning through NHS England and NHS Improvement’s draft guidance to ICBs on the discharge of their functions. The draft NHSEI guidance, published in August 2021, states that the intended outcomes for ICBs will include,

“Growing the workforce for the future and enabling adequate workforce supply”,

as well as,

“Leading coordinated workforce planning”.

The guidance notes state explicitly that ICBs will have the responsibility to develop

“plans to address current and future predicted workforce supply requirements”,

which I believe addresses the core intention of the shadow Minister’s new clause.

The production of those plans will require ICBs to develop and regularly refresh collaborative workforce plans for their integrated care area, with demand and supply planning based on population health needs. As part of that work, we can expect ICBs to work with local stakeholders in their areas. ICBs will also be supported by Health Education England on such workforce planning matters. Under the guidance, ICBs will also have the responsibility to provide workforce data to regional and national workforce teams to support workforce planning and inform the prioritisation of workforce initiatives and investment decisions.

We join the shadow Minister in putting on the record our gratitude to our health and care workforce, but we think that that guidance already sends a strong signal to the system about the importance of the issue, and we therefore do not support his new clause.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am not surprised, although I am a little saddened, that the Minister has once again adopted the permissive rather than prescriptive approach. We think that the issue is so important for the NHS that it needs a firmer hand. I am sure that I will quote back to him his comments about the need for greater accountability and transparency in workforce planning, because that is something that we absolutely agree on. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.