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Exclusive: Health Education England to be merged into NHSE

Published on: 17 Nov 2021

Health Education England is to be incorporated into NHS England by April 2023, HSJ has learned.

The decision — which is due within days — marks the climax of a long-running battle over HEE’s budget between the organisation and the Treasury.

A number of senior sources have confirmed the funding settlement HEE was arguing for was considered unaffordable, leading to the effective end of the independent education body.

Last month, the Treasury failed to confirm the NHS’ education and training budgets when issuing its three-year spending plans. The omission included any ongoing budget for HEE.

The HEE’s 2020-21 budget was £3.96bn. HSJ understands HEE was arguing for a significant uplift.

A senior NHS workforce source told HSJ: “There is huge pressure on NHSE to invest in the HEE budget. This [the merger] seems to be the price.”

HSJ understands that senior HEE figures view the decision as disappointing, believing the organisation could have been further developed as independent body. However, they also view the move as the right long-term decision, as it will align finance and workforce planning, and most significantly, bring education and training spending within the NHS England funding allocation which has been ring-fenced from government spending cuts in recent years.  

Speaking at the NHS Providers conference today, Sajid Javid stressed he recognised the importance of training more staff. Speaking about work underway on a “long-term strategic framework” for health and care workforce planning, he said he was “thinking about how we can go even further [than that project] and discussing that with HEE”. That plan is currently expected to be published in the “spring”.

At the time of the spending review, HSJ reported the HEE board wrote to Mr Javid to stress the failure to confirm a sufficient budget would undermine government commitments to increase staffing, and objectives for NHS covid recovery.

A week before the spending review, NHSE medical director Steve Powis had warned it was “absolutely critical” HEE received a settlement which would enable it to increase staff supply.

Responding to the news King’s Fund chief executive Richard Murray said: “Folding Health Education England into NHS England will make responsibilities for workforce planning much clearer and should make it easier to develop the workforce strategy needed to meet current and future demand for services. But this change will only work if NHS England gives workforce planning the priority it has lacked over for so long, and makes full use of the skills Health Education England staff will bring with them.

 “While there is logic to it, this move alone will not address staff shortages in the NHS. The workforce crisis has become a blind spot for the government which has made promises, pledges and manifesto commitments, but failed to back the fully funded workforce strategy needed to chart a path out of the staffing crisis. This needs to change - one step in the right direction would be to accept an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would see the regular publication of workforce projections and enable a longer-term approach to workforce planning.

He added the merger “also leaves unanswered questions about the social care workforce. Just as in the NHS, acute staff shortages are severely hampering social care services. The two sectors are closely intertwined, so solutions for the NHS need to fully consider social care and vice-versa.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ”We are committed to ensuring the NHS and everyone working in it can continue to deliver for patients in the long term.”

HEE was also approached for comment.

Updated at 3.45pm to include DHSC comment