Health Futures - new learning for a life in health services

11/12/2015  -  9.56am

John Middleton, Honorary Professor of Public Health

The NHS fails to recruit sufficient staff to fill all its vacancies, in nursing, some medical specialties and other clinical professions. Children’s and adult social care also struggle. There is also a growing reliance on temporary staffing and overseas recruitment. Changes towards more team working and 7 day working pose additional challenges. We will also need to recruit more representatively from our multi-ethnic and diverse communities. The Nothing in Common report found many more young people look to careers in culture, media and sport than there are jobs available. Young people also looked more to careers in health, education and public administration. But only ‘doctor’, 3.3% of 17-18 year olds, and ‘psychologist’ 4.75%, featured in the top ten career aspirations. Nurses, midwives, physiotherapists featured for only 1.9% - well below the available jobs. Many exciting health career paths are comparatively under-represented in the aspirations of young people. In this context, Health Futures, represents an exciting new approach to educating young people for a career in health services. The £10 million facility was opened by Lord Baker this autumn in West Bromwich and is one of the new breed of university technical colleges (UTCs). UTCs seek to give 14-19 year olds the opportunity for a strong science based education with vocational focus and enrichment, supported and sponsored by industries, commerce and service in their local areas. Heathrow for instance majors on aviation sciences. Others specialise in construction, engineering and digital technologies. 39 UTCs have been launched and 55 more are planned to come on stream by 2017.

Health Futures is the first to have health and care as its special vocational interest. The new building boasts state-of-the-art training facilities, virtual wards, laboratories, a 150-seat lecture theatre and a rooftop multi-use games area. The building has a high spec for sustainability and up to the minute information technology. It has been led by Wolverhampton University, together with 21 partners including all the NHS trusts across Birmingham and the Black Country. The lead sponsor is the West Midlands Ambulance Service. NHS trusts, private and voluntary organisations and local councils are partners in the delivery of training programmes in clinical areas and in the college. Sponsors are expected to build into their workforce plans training places for UTC graduates in future years.

The UTC offers the widest possible range of experiences in the health and care settings, in acute hospital care, community services, and mental health. A major pharmacy chain and a local hospice, ambulance services, local authorities, universities and medical schools are also partners. Learning for Public Health West Midlands has devised curriculum inputs for 14-19 year olds, and a careers video, which will play into the UTCs work but will also be more widely available. A series of Technical Challenge Projects will expose students to debate dilemmas in health and care.

When fully operational the UTC will have 600 students. Students are not guaranteed a health service job nor are they tied to a career in health services. UTC students undertake a regular curriculum and sit for GSCE exams. The college aspires for its students to go into health and care but also aims to produce citizens with an excellent all-round education and greater health knowledge than generations past. Students will leave college with a first aid qualification; they will be trained in customer care; they will be exposed to values and ethics of health care practice, and they will have an exposure to interpreting evidence, so they can be sceptical of the latest wonder drug story on the radio.

Health Futures will not be able to answer all the shortages. The eventual 600 students, 100 graduating a year, are a small number relative to the potential need for new staff in all areas of the NHS. The numbers also offer little threat to sixth form colleges who have expressed fears of losing the brighter students. A Health UTC in each local authority might still struggle to recruit numbers needed across the whole NHS. However, Health Futures is a beacon raising the profile of health and care services as places offering rewarding, meaning full and much needed work in the service of our communities

Private sector moneymaking or media recognition are purportedly the drivers of young people’s ambition. Set against this, the UTC movement in general offers to shape education and training relevant to local career opportunities and job markets. Further UTCs with biomedical sciences interests and health care opportunities will come on line, in Bromley, Plymouth and Newcastle. The Health UTCs, and Health Futures in particular, offer a beacon raising the opportunity, need and value of working in health services.

John Middleton is an Honorary Professor of Public Health at the University of Wolverhampton.