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National plan to modernise NHS’s HR function revealed

Published on: 22 Nov 2021

NHS England has unveiled a plan to modernise the health service’s human resources and organisational development functions over the next decade.

Published on Monday, the report outlines a 10-year strategy. It contains 35 actions that set out how the NHS’s people profession will be developed to work differently during that time.

It is the first major development plan for the service’s HR and OR functions for more than a decade. 

The plan comes after a wide range of concerns were expressed by NHS leaders, staff and HR professionals during the consultation process undertaken earlier this year. These were revealed in an appendix to the plan.

These included concerns there was “no consistent approach” to applying professional HR standards and competencies within the service, and “no universal expectation or standard” for leaders and line managers in the NHS.

The research revealed the belief that: ”There are few consequences for line managers and leaders who do not fulfil their people responsibilities.”

The lack of an agreed talent management framework was also highlighted, with critics saying this made “it difficult to effectively mobilise talent within and across systems”.

Others raised issues with “inconsistent” ownership of the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda among boards, and claimed that senior leaders and people functions were “perpetuating inequalities at all levels”. 

However, there was a broad belief that: ”The people profession has risen to the challenge of covid-19, demonstrating the value it adds to the service and the importance of the people agenda.”

The plan

NHSE has now pledged to work, alongside others, to develop “dynamic” professional standards for the health service’s people profession, as well as to create a development “curriculum” by 2023.

It will develop the infrastructure to support the plan’s implementation by establishing a national people profession development board with “strong links” to the country’s regional people boards, also by 2023.

National bodies have also promised to work together to develop “leading-edge” practice for people services based on “robust research and evidence”.

This includes creating a “clear view” on the expectations of line managers in the service.

Frameworks to enable people services to assess the alignment of resources with the delivery of the NHS long-term plan, NHS people plan, and NHS people promise are proposed by the plan.

NHSE plans to establish a strategic board that prioritises and coordinates digital people strategic initiatives by the end of next year. It will also co-design and support the implementation of a ”new national people digital solution” – which will succeed the current electronic staff record – from 2024.

Other plans include:

  • Working with the profession to define metrics that will measure and track the health and wellbeing of staff;
  • Defining minimum standards for the physical work environment that supports good health and wellbeing;
  • Instructing HR leaders to ”overhaul recruitment processes to take account of EDI considerations” and to ensure all job appointment processes, including promotions, include evidence of the candidate’s “personal positive impact” on equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace;
  • Ensuring all individuals from underrepresented backgrounds have a “clear development plan to help them reach their potential”; and
  • Embedding the principles of a “restorative just culture” into all people practices, such as employee relations, leadership and talent frameworks

In the report’s foreword, NHSE’s chief people officer Prerana Issar said: “This report was co-created by those most impacted by our work: NHS staff and their representatives, leaders and members of the people profession itself.

“It sets out the vision for how the people profession will continue to maximise our collective contribution to the NHS and meet the needs of staff, patients and local communities over the coming decade and beyond – building a brighter future for all.”