New body to control education and training

A NEW independent body is to be set up to plan the NHS workforce and coordinate training and education in England.

Health Education England will be set up this year and will be fully operational by 2012. It will take on the advisory role of Medical Education England and the professional advisory boards for education and training.

The new body is being created as part of the government health white paper, Liberating the NHS: developing the healthcare workforce. It signals a shift in government policy to move responsibility for workforce planning to local rather than central control. Providers of NHS funded care, including those in the independent and voluntary sectors, will take responsibility.

The proposals also include the creation of local “skills networks” of healthcare providers and clinicians that will work with local authorities and education providers. When strategic health authorities are abolished in 2012, the networks will assume many of their workforce functions, including deciding where to invest the current centrally funded £5 billion budget for education and training.

The government also plans to raise funds for training the next generation of healthcare professionals by imposing a levy on providers, and it intends to apply tariffs for medical and other clinical placements to provide a level playing field for the flow of funds.

Tom Dolphin, co-chairman of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, told the BMJ that the current distribution of education and training funds was “far from ideal, and this consultation has the potential to simplify the process.” But he warned that a move to a more local system could threaten national standards and erode the quality of training. “The pace of change suggested in the consultation is also troubling; with the plan to have new systems and processes in place by 2012, it is difficult to see how there will be enough time to pilot and evaluate changes,” he added.

But director of NHS Employers Dean Royles said: “I am delighted that the proposed reforms put employers front and centre of workforce planning, education and training. By putting all our voices together, we have a fantastic opportunity to shape this critical area.”

The consultation on the reforms runs until March 31, 2011. Comments can be submitted here.

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