The first seminar of the series attracted more than 500 viewers live, and has gathered more than 1,000 views online. The panel of workforce experts explained the intricacies and complexities of systemic workforce planning, highlighting that despite progress made in technology and digital products, health and care will always remain an industry of people, and that human resources, as any other, are finite. Along with this, panellists agreed that workforce planning as a field has grown in visibility and importance recently, in big part due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This seminar was introductory in nature, to set the context for the following seminars of the series. Professor Ged Byrne, Director of Global Health Partnerships for HEE, served as chair, introducing the panellists to the viewers, as well as the participants representing the eight countries that take part in related action learning sets.
Jim Campbell, Health Workforce Director at the World Health Organisation, kicked off with his presentation on workforce planning in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The impact of Covid-19 has been heavily reported on and quantified, with 115,000 health workers dying in the UK in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, along with millions of patients worldwide. From a workforce planning perspective, however, the impact is less quantifiable. The strain on the individual health workers, along with the lack of capacity that the pandemic exacerbated both became evident as the Covid-19 virus and its variants swept through.
Health and care workers put in immense effort to tackle the pandemic, including working longer hours under stressful conditions, often foregoing protective equipment for the sake of delivering care. These efforts have been greatly commended, and are indeed the reason behind the designation of 2021 as “The Year of the Health and Care Workers”. But as Rob Smith, Director of Workforce Planning and Intelligence for HEE, explained during his talk, relying on these efforts is not sustainable. Workforce planning strategies must take into account the rises in demand for health workers, and be adaptable to shocks to the system.
The importance of workforce planning has become much clearer to a wider range of system leaders. Capitalising on this increase in visibility is key to addressing community needs.
As Navina Evans, CEO of HEE, explained in her presentation, health systems must “think differently” about workforce planning, and the NHS has an obligation to share its expertise as well as the need to learn from others.
There is a need to stay connected to the population and to respond directly to community needs. This should be the core principle of planning for a resilient workforce in a strong health system, which is easier in today’s world where we are more connected.