New Clause 27 - Duty as to workforce and training innovation

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 27 October 2021.

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“(1) The National Health Service Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 1F(1) insert—

‘(1A) The Secretary of State must support the transformation of the health and social care workforce for integrated care systems, working with universities and colleges to train the future workforce through investment in technological and interprofessional innovation.’”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to support the transformation of the health and social care workforce, including by working with universities and colleges and through investment in technological and interdisciplinary innovation.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood

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

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 28—Duty as to education placement capacity and innovation—

“(1) The National Health Service Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 1F(1) insert—

‘(1A) To meet the integrated workforce requirements of integrated care systems, the Secretary of State must—

(a) ensure that there is sufficient placement capacity in the health and social care system in England to educate and develop a sustainable health and social care workforce,

(b) support, fund and promote the use of innovation in healthcare higher education to meet health and social care workforce needs, including new approaches to interdisciplinarity, digital technology and simulation, and

(c) consult universities, health and social care service employers, providers and other persons deemed necessary to develop practice placement capacity and innovation in higher education for health and social care to meet the needs of the health and social care workforce.’”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to develop and support education practice placement capacity across integrated systems and to support innovation in higher education for health and social care.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood

Thank you for allowing me to speak to these two new clauses together, Mr McCabe. They are essentially interrelated and were the product of a roundtable that I put together and hosted with Universities UK and the deans of medical colleges in my role as co-chair of the all-party university group. These were the two asks that the universities and medical colleges had for the Bill. I offer these new clauses as part of that consultative approach, so I will not be pushing them to a vote.

Basically, we are at a crux. I raised this question on clause 33 of the Bill, but when it comes to workforce planning and training, we take a siloed approach, focusing on what the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Health Education England set out as their vision, and the funding flows from that. Not included in that vision, although clearly there are consultative opportunities, is a recognised role and responsibility in legislation for healthcare education providers, the universities and the deans of the colleges in providing the clinicians, doctors and nurses of tomorrow. Nor is there recognition that the workforce is changing. While we have the Government’s commitment to the retention of nurses and doctors, that retention can take place only if there is continuous professional development.

When I was a Health Minister, I was very concerned to ensure an uplift in the budget of Health Education England to 3.4% to match that of NHS England. It had always been thought of as the poorer relation; the money would always flow later, and it took a great deal of lobbying from the relevant organisations to make the point that we needed to put that workforce training money aside, particularly for continuous professional development.

New clause 27, in summary, reflects the fact that if we are to have an integrated care system, and if the new White Paper is to look at how to integrate social care with healthcare, we will need to provide huge retraining opportunities for both NHS and social care staff to enable them to work across whatever that new landscape may be. I do not think it is practical to send everyone back to university, or even always to have physical in-work training opportunities, important though those may be. We will clearly need to have digital opportunities, online courses and a whole technological revolution in how we deliver those retraining opportunities.

Those opportunities are out there. If we look at the universities and the role of EdTech, it is important that the health service grips that opportunity with both hands while it has the chance to do so, because it will be coming down the tracks. If we want to implement reform via the integration of services, it will only be as good as the people working in those services, as we all know, and those people will be as good as they can be only if they are given the appropriate opportunities to train and retrain during their career.

The need for new clause 28 has become more pressing as a result of recent developments. It sets out a duty for education placement capacity; I will not go into the detail of the new clause, but effectively it is about place planning and ensuring that the universities and royal colleges are involved with that at the very outset. In the debate on clause 33, I talked about the paradox of our having a cap on places, which is causing a bottleneck in post-18 education—those pupils who are desperate to become doctors or nurses, but who find a cap on their aspiration.

That cap is there, as we know, because medical places are expensive; they cost not £9,250 a year, but more like £70,000 over the course of a medical student’s training lifetime. At the same time, however, we have a cap on places for those 18-year-olds entering the system and then—surprise, surprise—we find we do not have enough doctors and nurses in the system, and we have to start retraining from abroad.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Obviously, there has been a drive to expand medical student places in universities right across the UK, but one part of the system that is controlled centrally is foundation places, which a medical graduate has to spend their first two years in. This year, for the first time, there was a shortfall of about 400 places. Hopefully all those graduates have now got a foundation doctor place, but they cannot practise outwith a foundation place, which lasts two years, so they simply cannot work as doctors, nor can they work as doctors until they complete that two-year foundation role. There is no point in expanding medical school places if those at the end of the production line get turfed out to be unemployed or go and work as something else. It is not just about university places; there is also the issue of placements as foundation doctors for the first two years of their career.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood

The hon. Member is absolutely right. When it comes to the foundation year, I was interested in looking at what future reform might come in the workforce. We would need to work with the royal colleges and vested interests on a replacement, or at least on what could make the foundation process more flexible so as to allow in-work training on that foundation year pathway. That is a huge opportunity, and, if I was still a Minister, I would be pressing for a White Paper to look at how we could deliver workforce innovation, because I do not think we can continue to sustain our trajectory using infrastructure and systems designed in the early to mid-20th century. There is a balance to strike, in that we need to ensure that the safety of patients is accounted for, but technology and training has moved on to a different space. We do not see this constriction in other countries, which can offer fast-track routes through medical training processes, particularly post degree and into the foundation stage.

The issue of placement has become incredibly pressing—it is actually a real-time issue. During the pandemic, because the grade threshold was lowered and teacher assessment was used, an additional 1,900 students were accepted to take up medical places in September 2021. Whatever we think about that, those students were all given a place because they had achieved the right threshold, but to train them, an additional £60 million is needed. However, the Government have capped the training budget at £30 million, so although students have been accepted on to courses, universities are finding that they must make a loss of £2,460 per student in the academic years 2020-21 and 2021-22, and the Government are not opening their books to change that cap on finances.

The cap is therefore returning from this coming year, and as a result 1,000 fewer students will be trained each year. In effect, we will see a reduction in the number of students coming on board to be trained. There is currently this one-off moment that universities are taking forward, but as a result we will go backwards when we know that we need more doctors. The demographic changes that I spoke about in debate on clause 33 are coming down the tracks, but we will end up just recruiting from abroad. It is not that there is necessarily anything wrong with those qualifications; I would just prefer a sustainable and, in effect, sovereign pathway.

The post-Brexit narrative is that global Britain will ensure that we can stand on our own two feet and have a sustainable skilled workforce. That could be recognised if we had a placement strategy for medical students. However, we can do that only if we involve the universities and the education sector. The problem is that the Department for Education controls the purse strings for that budget, and I do not think that it realises the long-term consequences on our healthcare system.

The new clause would close a loophole that is kneecapping the Minister and the Department of Health by placing artificial caps on aspiration and—worryingly —on the future number of doctors entering the healthcare system. I will not press my new clauses to a vote, but the issue is extremely pressing. We will see 1,000 fewer students enter medical places next year than did so this year; and students going through the system have no funding for their places, despite having been given those places. That is a real-time issue that has resulted from the wider policy issue not being resolved. The new clauses would help resolve it, but I will not push them to a vote.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 5:15, 27 October 2021

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingswood on his excellent new clauses and the case that he has made for them. We strongly agree that the training and development of staff ought to be to the fore. We must take the opportunity of understanding that we have a workforce crisis at a time of significant technological development.

Take cancer services, for example. We are all concerned about gaps in cancer provision. We need to take the opportunity to turbo-leap forward, rather than trying to restore services to where they were pre-pandemic, when targets were being missed, and had been missed for a number of years. Let us train and develop our staff to use new and innovative approaches, such as new radiotherapies. There is real opportunity there. With respect to new clause 27, the right hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for harnessing the ability of our universities and colleges, and putting that together with our workforce to develop and improve our services.

On new clause 28, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the paradox of us having profound workforce shortages—in August, there were about 94,000 vacancies, including for nearly 40,000 nurses—while 14,000 applicants were not accepted on to nursing courses in 2018. I understand that there was a significant increase in 2019, but it was not big enough to meet our shortfalls, so that is a real paradox. Our services are not sustainable until and unless we take deliberate action to increase capacity. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to push the new clause to a Division, but I hope to hear from the Minister about what conscious decisions are being taken. This concerns not just those big courses either, but smaller ones, such as paramedic science and radiography. University Alliance members have reported 1,000 applications for 40 to 50 places, so there is demand. Of course, they cannot just take everybody and there has to be a filtering process, but it feels very over-geared to have 20 or 25 times the applicants per place.

I will not repeat the right hon. Gentleman’s arguments about GPs, but they were good. We should use this moment to change our approach to how we grow our GPs. What do we know about GPs? We know that we do not have enough of them, and that we certainly will not have enough of them in five or 10 years’ time. We know that certain communities find it particularly hard to attract GPs, but also that GPs tend to stay where they train or, if not, they are more likely to go back to where they grew up. As part of any so-called levelling up, we need to focus on growing our own GPs in poorer communities such as mine, and similar midlands communities—perhaps you share some of that vision, Mr McCabe—but we do not quite put this together.

Many of my constituents tend to enter education quite a way behind; they really close the gap over their 14 years of formal education, but fall just short of those very high standards that are needed at the age of 18 to go on to university. Should we be writing off those young people? Could we be doing better at getting them on courses to be GPs? I suspect that we would be able to retain them in Nottingham, or at least attract them back there, and to the surrounding towns, which desperately need GPs. Similarly—this is not a long-term answer, but it is certainly one for the short term—one of my foundational moments in my views on migration came from working in a shop the year after finishing school and before going to university. I was often on the rota with a man from Iraq, who was a trained civil engineer in Iraq, but could not afford to convert his qualification. He could not work in that field and instead worked with me in that shop. It always seemed to me like a significant waste of his skills.

I will take this moment to plug a wonderful project in Nottingham called the phoenix programme, in which students at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine work with migrants to this country who have medical qualifications at home but cannot practise because they need to convert the qualifications and often cannot afford to. Those medical students are working on language, functional skills and all the different aspects of the exams that those individuals will take, in order to help those people become doctors in this country. What a wonderful thing to do.

If we think about however many hundreds of thousands it costs to train a GP in this country, we realise what a saving they are making for us, too. I think that is a wonderful thing. We need that level of creativity on workforce in order to deal with our gap.

I will make no further points—I do not want to repeat what the right hon. Member for Kingswood said—but if those are not going to be the answers, I hope we hear from the Minister what the answer is. If we go for more of the same, we will just see growing workforce gaps and we really will have profound problems in our health service.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to address new clauses 27 and 28 together. First, new clause 27 seeks to place a specific duty on the Secretary of State to support the transformation of the health and social care workforce for integrated care systems by working with universities and colleges to train the future workforce through investment in technological and inter-professional innovation.

I take on board the broader points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, but we do not believe that the new clause is necessary, as that work is already covered by section 1F of the NHS Act 2006, which the new clause seeks to amend. Section 1F(1) sets out that the Secretary of State has a duty

“to secure that there is an effective system for the planning and delivery of education and training to persons who are employed, or who are considering becoming employed, in…the health service”.

Discharge of the duty under section 1F(1) is largely delegated to Health Education England through section 97 of the Care Act 2014. To meet its statutory duties and to ensure that an effective education and training system is in place, HEE undertakes a variety of work, including with further and higher education providers and regulators. Part of that work includes the curriculums for the healthcare professions. Those curriculums are set by approved education providers at an institutional level. HEE can influence the content by representing the employer voice to ensure that the training that individuals receive is relevant and remains up to date.

As part of that work, HEE is particularly keen to ensure that technological and medical advances are included in teaching, alongside new ways of working. Those measures would support newly qualified professionals to be suitably prepared to launch their careers in the NHS. To support that work and engagement with universities, HEE commissioned the Topol review, published in February 2019—probably in association with my right hon. Friend in one of his previous ministerial roles—on how to prepare the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future.

That review made recommendations that will enable NHS staff to make the most of innovative technologies such as genomics, digital medicines, artificial intelligence and robotics to improve services. The recommendations support the aims of the NHS long-term plan and the workforce implementation plan, helping to ensure a sustainable NHS. The progress report was published by HEE in 2020 and, as part of the implementation report, HEE has launched a digital readiness programme to continue to lead on developments in preparing the workforce to deliver the digital future.

On inter-professional working, we want a workforce that is less siloed and more flexible and adaptable, and work is ongoing to take that forward in England. For example, at the national level, we are looking at new skill mixes to meet new service models. Those new mixes could include upskilling existing staff, so that more staff are able to do things that have traditionally been limited to a smaller group of professionals—for example, prescribing—or making better use of the wide range of skills and contacts available to reduce duplication.

At ICS level, national guidance on the ICS people function also set out the expectation that the ICB, working with the ICP, will have responsibility for enabling workforce transformation across the health and care system, including through the use of technology and innovation, as well as for work with educational institutions to develop the local future workforce. Nationally, arm’s length bodies will support and enable ICBs to deliver those responsibilities at a local level. I hope that that highlights some of the work being done under the existing statutory duty in section 1F of the 2006 Act.

Secondly, new clause 28 seeks to place three new statutory duties on the Secretary of State. That, in a sense, is at the heart of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood was getting at. They are: a duty to ensure a sufficient number of clinical placements for the number of students; a duty to ensure innovation—his new clause outlines greater interdisciplinary working, digital technology and simulation as three examples—is supported and funded in the education and training system; and a duty to consult universities and others on clinical placement availability.

We have carefully considered my right hon. Friend’s new clause, but we do not feel that those additional specific statutory duties are necessary, in addition to the existing statutory duty on the Secretary of State in section 1F of the 2006 Act, which my right hon. Friend seeks to amend. Section 1F sets out that the Secretary of State has a duty to ensure that there is an effective system for the planning and delivery of education and training to persons who are employed, or who are considering becoming employed, in the health service. Discharging the duty under 1F(1) is largely delegated to HEE through section 97 of the Care Act 2014.

As the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire said, clinical placements are a vital part of healthcare students’ education and training. Good experience during a placement can lead a student to seek employment at their placement provider. As a result, ensuring that there is sufficient placement capacity remains a priority for HEE in order to meet its statutory duties and ensure that an effective education and training system is in place.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Just to clarify, I was not referring to placements as students, which are absolutely vital; I was referring to the two foundation years that those individuals have to do afterwards. Otherwise, they simply cannot function as doctors.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for clarification, but she illustrates that placements, both as students and in the context she describes, are vital to enable students to understand and learn the reality and skill of their profession. It is also important that placements are rewarding for students.

HEE has successfully worked with education providers and placement providers to ensure there is sufficient placement capacity for the record number of nursing students that we now have. Such work includes payment of the education and training tariff, which pays a contribution to the costs of providing placements. The Government have also supported HEE through the provision of additional funding, enabling it to launch its clinical placement expansion programme. The programme has seen HEE commit £15 million to fund additional clinical placements across nursing, midwifery, allied health professionals and healthcare science in 2021-22. This funding will increase the number of placements offered to nursing, midwifery and AHP healthcare students from September 2021, which was last month, and it will enable HEE to deliver the future health and care workforce in sufficient numbers, and with the skills that the NHS needs.

Before I turn to innovation, I will address two points that were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and alluded to by the hon. Member for Nottingham North. First, the shadow minister touched on those who come from abroad via normal immigration routes or as refugees, the skills they have and how we need to make it easier for such people to utilise their skills and work in our NHS. He is absolutely right, and we continue to look at how we can make the process easier. We need to balance that with making sure that we can evidence and reference those skills for the safety of patients and those qualifications, but where that can be done and where those skills are commensurate, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to requalify or go through the necessary safety processes to be able to work in our NHS. The only other thing I would say is that we have to be very careful that any recruitment is ethical and that we are not denuding countries of the ability to utilise the skills of clinical professionals in rebuilding their own countries.

The second point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood was about the challenges posed for maintaining quality, in terms of people going through relevant courses, and for the operation of the cap. I will not criticise any other Government Department, but he highlights the juxtaposition that often occurs between the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, or between other Departments where two Departments have an interest in the same policy but different incentives for their policy making. There will always have to be a financial test. There is always a limited budget, and my right hon. Friend highlighted how expensive some of the training courses are. However, it is right to expand the number of medical schools and training places, as we have done—he probably presided over it.

I remember going to the University of Lincoln, when I had just been appointed. Those I met were disappointed that I was not my right hon. Friend, but they were none the less very welcoming to me. The University of Lincoln works very closely with the University of Nottingham, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham North, in setting up a new medical school and drawing on the curriculum and expertise that was already in Nottingham. It is a great example. I very much hope that, when I am not in this Bill Committee, I might be able to go once again to visit the University of Lincoln and perhaps come and see the hon. Gentleman’s local medical school over in Nottingham.

Finally, on innovation, HEE currently works with universities, training providers and regulators on the curricula for the healthcare professions to ensure that they reflect the latest technological innovations. Although curricula are set, as I have said, at institution level, HEE can influence the content by representing the employer voice, to ensure that the training that individuals receive is relevant to what employers need.

In relation to consultation, HEE already works with universities, placement providers and others on the availability of placement providers to assess and ensure that there are the right number and types of placement. As I have mentioned, the number of placements has expanded. That is a direct result of the constructive dialogue and engagement that HEE has with placement providers. At ICS level, national guidance on the ICS people function set out the expectations.

I hope that I have set out that work on the areas highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood is being taken forward—some of it was started by him a few years ago—under the existing statutory duty under section 1F of the NHS Act 2006. Therefore, at this point, we do not think that further specific duties are necessary, but I suspect that, in the further passage of this legislation, we may well return to the sort of themes that we have discussed today.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood

As I said, I will not push the new clauses to a vote, but I will just reiterate that there clearly is a massive structural supply and demand imbalance. I do not believe that the status quo will be sustainable in the longer term. I do appreciate the Minister setting out the ecosystem as it exists, but I fear that that ecosystem, in the longer term, cannot keep up with the changing demands on the healthcare system and the expansion of the healthcare system thanks to the budgetary announcements today about the amount of money that is being spent. None of this will cut through effectively if we do not have the trained workforce in place to be able to deliver healthcare on the ground. Mention has been made of general practitioners and the shortfall that we are going to see as a result of the demographic and retirement bulge that is going through the system at the moment. These are problems coming down the track, and I would always recommend in policy, as in life, that if we see a problem and know that we are going to have to take a decision, it is better to take the decision sooner rather than later, because the costs will only be less now and greater later on.

I will not push these new clauses to a Division, but I have, Cassandra-like, sent out a warning cry of what will happen in the future if we do not act soon. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Steve Double.)

Adjourned till Thursday 28 October at half-past Eleven o’clock.