The NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce Programme of Work: The Next Five Years

Prof Ian Kessler of the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce introduces the Unit’s programme of work commencing this year under the 2024-28 award from the NIHR Policy Research Programme.

In the context of ongoing challenges to the recruitment, retention, and motivation of around three million staff employed in health and social care, the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce in the Policy Institute at King’s College London (KCL) has announced its programme of work as it sets out on its next five years (2024-28).

Developed in consultation with the Department of Health and Social Care, this programme is sensitive to the importance of workforce organisation and management to the delivery of high quality services as the health and care needs of the population change, and as technological and medical advances provide new opportunities to address such needs. The Programme has been framed by key policy initiatives, for example, the NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan (2023) and the DHSC White Paper People at the Heart of Care: Adult Social Care Reform (2021). It comprises the following seven related but discrete projects, with their Principal Investigators (PI):

1. Evaluating the Implementation of Apprenticeships in Health and Social Care

Adopting a mixed method approach, this project will assess similarities and differences between the health and social care sectors in approaches to the apprenticeship agenda. From an organisational perspective the project will examine how, why and with what effect, Trusts and care providers adopt apprenticeships for different regulated and unregulated work roles. From an individual perspective, the project will explore the motivations and experiences of apprentices themselves, as they make choices on and progress through their training. PI: Kalpa Kharicha, KCL; Project page.

2. Career Development in Adult Social Care

This project will explore the current state of career development and progression in the social care workforce. It will examine these issues from the perspective of different stakeholders: the Integrated Care System, and the steps being taken at this level to support careers in social care; social care providers and their capacity to act in this space; and, through a survey, social care employees, and how they view, experience, and seek to construct their careers. PI: Nicole Steils, KCL; Project page.

3. NHS Careers Across Occupations

Using the NHS Electronic Staff Record (ESR), and complemented by follow-up qualitative research, this project will look at career progression amongst employees in NHS England, with a particular focus on moves between different occupations within the NHS. It will examine: individual staff characteristics (e.g. age, sex, ethnicity) related to occupational transition; NHS Trust mechanisms, including workforce policies and practices, as well as individual staff motivators, driving such transitions; and individual and collective workforce outcomes (retention, future within-occupation progression, diversity and pay gaps) generated by such transitions. PI: Elaine Kelly, Institute for Fiscal Studies; Project page.

4. New Roles in Health and Social Care

This project examines the nature of new roles in health and social care, the scale of their adoption, as well as why, how and with what effect on various outcomes, they are being adopted and used. Co-designing elements of this study with service users, the project will develop a directory of new roles in health and social care, and purposively select several such roles for more detailed analysis in terms of design, implementation, and impact. PI: Annette Boaz, KCL; Project page.

5. Widening Participation in the Healthcare Workforce

This project will examine the implementation of the Widening Participation programme in NHS England, as framed by the policy of NHS Trusts acting as anchor institutions, seeking to engage as an employer with their local communities. The project will centre on the role played by Integrated Care Systems in taking forward this agenda, and in particular, on three activity streams: supported employment programmes for young people with a learning disability; employability support for those marginalised in the labour market such as people with lived experience of homelessness and military veterans; and the development of pathways for school and college students into the NHS workforce. Mapping progress on these activity streams across all Integrated Care Systems, the study will then concentrate on select ICS as case studies for more in-depth analysis. PI: Kritika Samsi, KCL; Project page.

6. The Social Care Workforce: Recruitment, Retention and Care User Health Outcomes

This project draws on the Adult Social Care Workforce Dataset, with its linked employee-employer information on over 750,000 social care workers employed in 20,000 care locations across England. It will explore how changes in alternative job prospects in local labour markets affect retention and recruitment outcomes in the social care sector.  It will then examine whether and how these outcomes impact the quality of care for people who use the sector’s services. PI: George Stoye, Institute for Fiscal Studies; Project page.

7. The Management of Sickness Absence by NHS Trusts

This study (commencing September 2024) will look at patterns of sickness absence in NHS Trusts, with a view to examining why and how differences develop and impact on service delivery. Drawing on secondary data, the study will categorise NHS Trusts by their pattern of staff sickness absence. The study will then select case study Trusts with different patterns of sickness absence (high, medium, and low) to drill down into the factors which might explain these differences including care setting, service pressures, and organisational policies and practices. PI: Caroline Norrie, KCL; Project page.

Getting in touch

For further details on the projects and should you have any interest in participating, whether in an institutional or personal capacity, please feel free to contact Principal Investigators (via the links above), or the Unit on:

Join the Unit’s Workforce Panel

As part of the Programme of Work we will be setting up a consultative Workforce Panel, comprising individuals from different NHS and care roles. If you are interested in joining this panel, please do contact Unit Director Annette Boaz:

Prof Ian Kessler is a member of the Senior Management Team of the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, King’s College London, and Professor of Public Policy and Management at King’s Business School.

A fuller outline of the seven studies making up the programme of work is available as a pdf. See also: March 2024 Unit news item about this work programme

Acknowledgement and disclaimer

This research is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (NIHR206121 – NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce). The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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