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We must all act now to achieve the ‘new normal’

11 May 2020

In the face of what is an unsettling and difficult time for us all, it’s been heart-warming to see the national outpouring of admiration and respect shown towards the NHS and other key workers in recent weeks. Much has been said about the way NHS colleagues across the country have risen to new and unexpected challenges since the COVID-19 outbreak and I’d like to add my sincere gratitude for the impressive work, adaptability and commitment every day to overcome the pandemic.                                                                                 

Perhaps slightly less obvious – but equally inspiring – is how Health Education England (HEE) colleagues are working tirelessly to promote choice, flexibility and adaptability to front line staff, students and trainees, thanks to our now well-established relationships with partners such as NHS England and NHS Improvement, the Department of Health and Social Care and the professional regulators. Collectively, we are steadfastly and diligently looking beyond the ‘here and now’, focusing on where we need to be and how we reset to the ‘new normal’ phase where we will all be living with the risk of COVID-19 while ensuring more normal activities.   

Over the next six months, through a series of blogs starting soon, I will be sharing my thoughts about how HEE is playing its part in looking to the ‘new future’, harnessing our joint learning for the benefit of our students, trainees and learners. Please engage with these, share with your networks and tell us what more we can do to ensure staff and students get time to recover and reflect as the peak of the pandemic recedes and we look to reinstate the pipeline that provides the NHS with its future generations of staff. I am keen to hear from as many people as possible and particularly from students and those in training as we work with you to re-shape how we care for patients.    

So, for now, what learning points has the pandemic exposed for HEE, in terms of how it can rapidly define the ‘new normal’ for education and training in the next phase of COVID-19 leading to the ‘new future’?  

  • There is a huge amount of confidence in HEE’s position and expertise to deliver at scale and pace. HEE has shown it is a nimble organisation, you just need to look at our work to deliver over 30,000 students and trainees ready early for the front line and wider volunteering, the effective re-deployment of existing doctors in training to COVID teams and the educational support provided across health care. We have also been leading workforce modelling, allowing a proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis on a national and local scale, providing real time evidence of the expertise and skills among our trainees and students to match the needs of the front-line NHS.  

  • We’re getting things to the ‘shop floor’ quicker through being more accepting of the ‘get it done’ approach we are taking - not letting pursuit of perfection eventually get in the way of delivering what the system needs now. My view is that the COVID-19 crisis has led to a more permissive, innovative and urgent environment that has tightened and strengthened relationships between Arm’s-Length Bodies, professions, health and social care, public and private, regulators and Devolved Administrations.   

  • We must maximise digital enablement - be part of the thinking about how digital technology and other innovations are changing the delivery of healthcare and therefore what this means to us as we lead education reforms.  

  • Helping to save lives now is vital, but it is right that we, as HEE, are very much focused on the future workforce pipeline. We’re pushing for all student workers and volunteers who fronted up to support the crisis, but have not yet been used, to be placed by employers – after all they can allow current staff to take much needed leave or space for their own career development. To date, more than 100 nursing students are working in care homes, making an important contribution and supporting colleagues in social care. Similarly, we will exploit the surge in interest on the Health Careers website to encourage good people to join the NHS, particularly through apprenticeship routes.    

  • The crisis has shown where HEE’s strategic vision can be adapted or expedited to build future resilience, such as embedding generalist clinical skills for a crisis-ready workforce and learning from the new clinical teams in operation. The work we are doing is not starting from a zero gain – think Interim People Plan, Framework 15, regional strategic plans as well as all the specific work on professional reform. We must take learning forward from these major pieces of work - they are our building blocks.     

​As we look to the ‘new future’, let’s all harness our joint learning for the benefit of our students, trainees and learners. In resetting the new normal, HEE’s relationships with stakeholders have never been more important, which is why I’m passionate about ensuring we listen, reflect and have honest conversations about the challenges and pressures we face, as well as the opportunities they present. We are “all in this together”. If we acknowledge this, we can make life better for the citizens of this country for decades to come.  

I very much look forward to working with you all over the next few weeks and months and hearing your views about what HEE is doing and how we can all work together better.

Get involved in the conversation on Twitter, follow @NHS_HealthEdEng #HEEnewfuture. 

Posted by Professor Wendy Reid