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Health Education England sets first national agenda for NHS-funded student places

18 December 2013 - 5:18pm

The first national Workforce Plan for England’s healthcare is a step towards achieving better strategic co-ordination of funding for education across the healthcare professions. It also highlights the urgent need for full data on workforce demand, according to the CSP.

Sally Gosling

Sally Gosling, the CSP's assistant director of practice and development

Decisions about the allied health professions (AHPs), including physiotherapy, have previously been determined at a local level, with little oversight nationally.

The plan, published on 17 December by Health Education England (HEE), sets out how the organisation will spend nearly £5bn a year on education and training for health care professionals.

For 2013 to 2014, 1,488 training places for physiotherapy are being funded by the NHS, and this will increase by just two places to 1,490 in 2014 to 2015.

Against this 0.1 per cent increase for physiotherapists, there will be an increase of more than 30 per cent in paramedic training places, from 655 to 853 over the same period.

The numbers for AHPs overall represent a three per cent increase, with a few professions seeing a small decrease in student commissions.

The HEE is to commission 13,228 nursing places for the coming year, an increase of nine per cent on 2013 to 2014, and reflecting issues about safe patient care raised in the Francis report.

Drop out rates too high

Sally Gosling, the CSP’s assistant director of practice and development, said the increase raises issues about how an additional 500 nursing students will be admitted to programmes for the next academic year. The CSP will be seeking to work with higher education institutions that host both physiotherapy and nursing programmes to ensure that this does not have a destabilising impact on physiotherapy education, or adversely affect CSP members, she noted.

Dr Gosling also said the HEE will need to work on reducing high drop out rates from nursing programmes.

The report acknowledges issues which must be pursued to achieve a robust approach to workforce planning.

Crucially, these include addressing data gaps relating to workforce demand outside the NHS and recognising the increasingly diverse settings in which physiotherapists and other AHPs deliver patient care.

Develop existing workforce

They also include reviewing skill mix and role development across professions to ensure patient needs are met in the most clinically and cost-effective ways, looking at programme outputs, and investing in the development of the existing workforce, rather than simply focusing on future members of the professions.

‘We need to better understand the non-NHS supply and demand model for AHPs, we well as the future need for their skills in the light of emerging policies,’ the HEE report says.

Dr Gosling said: ‘We have raised these needs repeatedly for a number of years and will continue to do so. It’s good to see that they are now being brought to the fore in how HEE plans to develop its role and approach.’

She added that the CSP will be undertaking a full analysis of the plan. It will use this to develop its on-going work with external stakeholders to make the case for physiotherapy, and to support members’ engagement in workforce planning processes.

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