The NHS People Plan and developing effective primary care workforce planning – is there a link?


By Skills for Health | 10 September 2020

I was recently working with a group of Primary Care Networks to pilot an approach to workforce planning, when I received notification that the NHS People Plan had been published. I recall being in a virtual workshop and being pleased that this document had finally been released, yet my primary care colleagues seemed not even the most remotely bit interested. I couldn’t help but wonder why this indifference in the room.

Whilst I shared I welcomed the plan, its ambition, and aspirations, they were quick to tell me their opinion – they were fed up with the mountain of documents they get sent, that in their view, these often have very little relevance to them, or actually make a difference to them – but I thought, surely the long spoken of People Plan must be relevant.

Given, at the time, we were piloting an innovative approach to building workforce planning capacity and capability in primary care together, I wondered how I could link the aspirations of the plan to what we were trying to do in a meaningful way.

My belief has always been that health and social care is totally dependent on the people. To get the best outcomes we can for the populations we serve, we rely on their availability, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours to deliver our services.

We are a service industry that cannot function effectively without the dedication, commitment and drive of our diverse workforce, so surely finally having a nationally recognised plan that focusses on the needs, support, protection and development of the people who deliver all our services can only be a good thing?

Workforce planning is often not considered a ‘sexy’ subject by some, but for me this is because of a lack of understanding of what it really means. For me, workforce planning is all about creating sustainable services based on the changing needs of our local population. We must value and fulfil the development needs of our current workforce combined with the delivery of the future workforce to ensure they are all fit for purpose.

To do this, we have to be prepared to think outside of the box, in terms of what can be done by different roles in different environments, whilst ensuring the quality of care and outcomes is maintained against a realistic and affordable budget.

Primary care’s innovative and timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic has already demonstrated that it is capable of embracing transformation. Not only in how the workforce is deployed, but how it can deliver care through new and innovative ways of working. We now need to think ahead.

Let’s not just think about 2020/21, let’s start planning for the next five years and think about what we need to put in place to ensure we have sustainable services for the future. No, this is not a small ask, but with some local planning and collaboration I truly believe it can be done.

The People Plan does specifically mention the use of systems to strengthen their approach to workforce planning, competency modelling and planning, identifying, and filling skills gaps, as well as signposting tools and resources to support this. However, I believe we must make sure these are truly accessible and adapted for primary care to use.

The principles of the Plan cover all people who deliver care, with some clear links that apply to effective primary care workforce planning including:

  • diversity and inclusion for all our staff
  • linking the need to care for our staff with the need to improve patient outcomes
  • growing our own workforce of the future including increased local recruitment and career pathways
  • increasing apprenticeship opportunities
  • expansion of the multidisciplinary teams in primary care through the additional roles’ reimbursement scheme
  • developing our current staff and working differently to deliver care with increasing flexibility in general practice

It goes on to emphasise the need for strengthening collaborations and developing compassionate and inclusive leadership. My experience of working with primary care partners has repeatedly shown that effective workforce planning within primary care is only successful when collaboration and trust exists and is enabled through effective leadership.

There is a great opportunity for primary care to actively engage in Local People Plan development groups and I would strongly advise my colleagues in primary care to seek out those opportunities. Only when we ensure we’re part of local system people planning groups and discussions, can we influence the local plan and help deliver some of the aspirations and ambitions within the NHS People Plan.

Jan Parfitt MCSP is an Associate Consultant with us here at Skills for Health. Bringing with her over thirty years of experience working as a clinician and manager in a variety of settings across the health and social care sectors, she has a proven record of facilitating workforce transformation in care quality and service delivery.

How are we supporting the sector to make the aspirations of the NHS People Plan a reality? Amongst other things, we are:

  • Working to support Primary Care Workforce Strategy with targeted and bespoke support to Primary Care Networks to enable robust and purposeful workforce planning. Providing real-world solutions and considerations to match service needs to skills, role planning, and development
  • Developing national competency/capability frameworks to enable high quality and consistent outcomes for people who use NHS services; developed with our specialist expertise in service design, role design, national occupational standards, workforce development, skills, and training
  • Working with partners Health Education England to deliver introductions to Primary Care Workforce Strategy
  • Supporting individuals, teams, and organisations to enrich their leadership skills through tailored leadership and OD coaching and strategic projects


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