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Leak reveals ‘crazy’ decision to ‘strip out commitments’ from NHS workforce plan

Published on: 23 Aug 2023

Senior officials had to “strip out commitments to future plans, or policies” from the long-term workforce plan – including an earlier promise of a dedicated digital workforce plan – according to leaked internal emails seen by HSJ. 

An internal email thread of discussion among NHS England and Health Education England directors, seen by HSJ, shows NHSE’s director for the workforce plan tell colleagues of a decision “taken by a senior panel as part of a move to strip out commitments to future plans, policies” from the document.

This is in response to discussion about a decision to remove a commitment to a future, separate workforce plan for digital and technology, for which work was already underway.

During the discussion, which took place in March, when much of the detail of the plan was being worked up, an official informed colleague that “references to the digital workforce plan have mostly gone during the editing process, but there are references to the need for both upskilling and new roles in digital in a couple of places”.

In response to this, Yinka Makinde, digital workforce strategy director at NHSE replied: “This is crazy! Who made this decision, without any consideration to inform our programme? This has strategic consequences.” Ms Makinde asked to discuss the matter urgently with workforce plan director Barny Leavers.

Mr Leavers then cites the decision to “strip out commitments to future plans [and] policies”.

After much delay, the 15-year plan was finally published at the end of June, although only with commitments to fund training growth for the next five years. This followed months of negotiations with the government, particularly the Treasury. It is not known what other commitments were removed, but those who have said it does not go far include cancer charities, and optometrists.   

In relation to the digital plan, Mr Leavers said the “commitment to these various bits of work remains the same, but it would give rise to the question of it we have separate plans for different parts, why not other priorities etc”.

Another colleague in the email exchange appeals for the commitment to be revived. 

Alan Davies, innovative programmes and partnerships director at HEE, referred to calls for a better digital workforce from the Commons health and social care committee, and stated: “Current this current very high level and targeted political interest, I don’t see how we can avoid putting something in referencing Yinka’s work and our response.”

In the lead-up to the publication of the long-term workforce plan, there was speculation the Treasury wanted to remove all numbers, as they would commit the government to spend money both in the short and long term.

However, ranges were included in the final version, which said staffing increases were based on “a set of assumptions about demand, productivity and retention over the modelling period”, which was dependent on investment in estates and “technology and digital innovation”.

In terms of specific mentions around the digital workforce, the plan described the need to upskill the workforce to “maximise the opportunities from technological and digital innovations”, says staff will need to work in different ways and will also result in a “growth of specialist, digital, technology and genomics roles”.

An NHS England spokesman said: “NHS England’s long term workforce plan references supporting staff to build digital skills, with further detail on the roll out to be shared as part of the digital workforce plan set to be published later this year.”