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Case Study – Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust promotes equal access to learning

To improve skills in the healthcare workforce means tackling employee development across the board. Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust has taken this challenge seriously by putting in place a Union Learning Representative (ULR) lead to widening access to learning, especially amongst those who may previously have bypassed training and development.

The Trust covers a large area of Northumberland, Tyneside, and Wearside, providing services for people with mental health and learning disabilities. Around 7000 employees are based in seven hospital sites and across many team bases and community homes.

Unison’s ULR lead for the DEAL project (Development Education Achievement and Learning) is sponsored by the Unionlearn Northern TUC ‘Learning for All’ fund. He is based in the Trust’s Vocational Training Department work to:

  • Support Lifelong Learning
  • Promote Skills for Life
  • Signpost learners who have little or no experience of learning to development and training
  • Recruit and support ULRs within their roles

Since the work started, the Trust has been able to support hundreds of staff members who may have left school without qualifications and have not been in a formal learning environment for years.

“We know many people get by on a day to day basis, and those from disadvantaged households are seriously underrepresented at every level of learning and achievement. Our activities and sessions have shown that we are succeeding in getting people onto courses that help them develop a love of learning.

Once they get the opportunity to start learning, it opens up more doors and their learning begins to widen.”

Michael Hood-Dodd, DEAL Project Lead ULR,
Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust


  • Over 680 employees have accessed the
  • Winner of North East Equality Award presented by Equality NE in 2007 and 2008
  • Holder of IAG matrix award since 2008
  • Approximately 45 Information Advice and Guidance sessions provided each month

The DEAL Project has grown to support 19 ULRs who have been recruited from a range of posts within the Trust, including vocational trainers, medical records staff, a trainee nurse, laundry staff, and care assistants. All are basic IAG trained, with three at level 3 and two at level 4.

Other initiatives include a Learners Day held within the Trust, to encourage greater participation in learning, whatever people’s former experiences. With involvement from the Chief Executive, it demonstrates commitment at the highest level. A wide range of courses is being delivered, ranging from Skills for Life through to undergraduate programmes.

An important element of underpinning IAG was to reinforce the matrix Standard which had been achieved by the Vocational Training Department in 2007 by achieving matrix Standard for the Deal Project as well in 2008.

ULR colleagues who included members of the training team were already key supporters of the benefits of offering a matrix accredited learning service.

“Ask any trade union learning project that has already secured matrix Accreditation and they’ll tell you the process has helped them raise their standards and improve their service.

Securing matrix Accreditation is not hard if you’re committed to providing the best possible IAG – whether that’s to members, or potential members, of your union branch, union employees, or whoever your project is designed to help.”

Michael Hood-Dodd, DEAL Project Lead ULR,
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

The Trust’s Vocational Training Department‘s matrix quality standard for information advice and guidance services award in 2007 enabled them to achieve a Train to Gain contract and to underpin IAG services across the organisation. In the future, re-accreditation will strengthen the training department’s role as a source of expertise on IAG for the whole organisation.

Work has now been embedded to promote IAG skills amongst all managers who support staff development through the KSF process and personal development reviews. The Trust has also built IAG capacity through the network of NHS Library staff, thus making optimum use of existing resources.

The matrix Accreditation process has been an invaluable process in helping Trust staff reinforce good practice and it has strengthened their position to target external funding:

“Whilst funding streams come and go, the intrinsic value of the matrix is that it is a widely recognised and respected standard for any organisation which takes learning and development seriously.

The matrix provides, in effect, a ‘code of practice’ which can be widely recognised by all staff, both those who provide IAG services and those who access them.”

Annette Connor, JIF Co-ordinator and IAG Manager,
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Standards such as matrix reflect an organisation’s commitment and demonstrable track record that IAG is simply about supporting the development of the wider organisation. If there’s one thing Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust can show, it really does tackle employee development trust-wide.

We welcome such examples of partnership work which show how ULRs are enabling all staff to access careers and learning support and advice.

As the Sector Skills Council for the UK health sector, we support the NHS, independent healthcare providers, and voluntary organisations. Our purpose is to help develop solutions that can deliver a skilled and flexible workforce to improve health and healthcare.