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How HEE has built health partnerships across the globe for now and in the future

27 March 2023

We are delighted to announce that HEE was designated as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre on Human Resources for Health on 22nd March; formally recognising the contribution of Technical Collaboration and Consultancy team’ work with WHO.

This builds on our strategic partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as the co-host of the NHS Consortium for Global Health and our work to ensure the NHS supports the Government’s global health and health security objectives.

Workforce is one of the “wicked problems” facing all health systems around the world. There is a line in the Long-Term Plan which states “all of the solutions we need already exist in our NHS.” Sadly, the very nature of the complex workforce challenges we face is that they are not quickly soluble in a clear-cut and definitive way.

Policy makers, strategists, and planners, around the world are attempting to tackle the same workforce issues we are facing in England’s NHS. How do we train and recruit the right numbers of nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals? How do we ensure they are working in the rural/remote areas we know have the greatest need? How do we attempt to future proof the workforce for the demographic and technological shifts that will take place during their 30-year career? Crucially, as we create a new NHS England, how do we ensure “workforce” is not an issue addressed in isolation from service and financial planning?

The last few years have shown us that there are talented, dedicated, professionals working on the same issues the world over; each attempting to improve the health systems they work in and a growing recognition that growing and improving the workforce is not something that can be done as a siloed activity. If the solutions are not here today in our NHS, hopefully they exist somewhere globally.

Our approach to technical collaboration, capacity building, and consultancy is one of convening and facilitation. We aim to bring together NHS teams with their peers overseas to share the often common, occasionally divergent, and frequently innovative methods each has of tackling shared challenges. We know from our own experience in the NHS that innovation is spurred by facing challenges, and the lessons learned by our colleagues in Low- and Middle- Income settings have often led to innovations which might be applicable in the NHS.

Working for Health 2030: Building Health Workforce Leadership

In 2023 HEE and WHO will co-host a series of free access seminars on workforce planning as part of Working for Health 2030. Each will highlight differing approaches to key themes from international partners. In parallel cross-system action-learning sets of up to nine colleagues in Eight countries will work see if there are ideas which might be put into practice in their own systems.

Speakers at the first Seminar, which focused on primary care, included colleagues from Canada, Ethiopia, Sweden, and the NHS. What emerged from the discussion is a common set of challenges facing workforce in primary care with no single ‘magic bullet’ but bundles of interconnected interventions on workforce along common themes: education and training, reward and recognition, ongoing professional support, and development; all levers at all levels.

Building our own capacity to deliver in England through global engagement

As much as our work seeks to share our experience in the NHS, we believe we all learn from this exchange to the benefit of the populations we all serve. UK policies on sugar reduction in terms of front of package labelling and formulation were influenced by interactions in Mexico. There are community maternal health workers being piloted in Westminster based on models pioneers in Brazil.

Bringing HEE’s team working on public health workforce mapping to meet WHO and partners as part of the Public Health and Emergency Workforce Roadmap highlighted both how comprehensive our work on mapping cross-sectoral public health specialists was but also potential gaps in terms of non-public health specialists delivering public health. We are hopeful that piloting the WHO’s methodology as a technical exercise will not only inform their practice but inform the approach of our own work going forward.

Beyond building improving our knowledge and practice the opportunity to engage with peers overseas is something which supports staff engagement, the development of our staff, and our work to be the employer of choice.

When we evaluated the benefits of global work to our organisation several participants expressed that the job satisfaction that they experienced from taking part made them more likely to stay in their role, suggesting benefits around staff retention “I feel like I’m contributing to society much more”/ “it helps with getting to your desk in the morning”/ “We’ve done some pretty incredible stuff”. Others highlighted the benefits of sustained relationships and networks that they were able to develop through their participation: “it’s widened our networks, which has been a really positive thing” they had been able to reference their participation in applications to join professional networks and fellowships.

Global health partnerships in the new NHS England

It has been a genuine pleasure and privilege to be part of HEE’s global health partnerships over the last four years. Acting to enable HEE – and other NHS – experts to collaborate with their peers overseas on a range of shared challenges has been hugely rewarding.

HEE’s accreditation as a WHO collaborating centre on human resources for health is testament not to the work of the global team, or the technical expertise of own staff, but the open and equitable way teams have approached working internationally.

The values-based approach to global work is something we will take with us into a new NHS England to we continue our work on global health partnerships; for our technical and knowledge-based work, our work on educationally enabled migration, overseas placements for NHS staff.

Posted by Thomas Hughes-Waage