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The forgotten workers in need of a training health check


STETHOSCOPEAlthough the UK's medical workers are amongst the best qualified and trained in the world, there are forgotten workers in every primary care trust, care home and clinic who are urgently in need of a training health check, argues Dan Wright. He explains the reasons, and outlines what should be done to ensure all employees' training needs are fully met.

In an age of targets and unprecedented political and media scrutiny, ensuring first rate provision of health services is the overriding concern of health sector employers - and the training of frontline staff is understandably the core focus. However, this can mean that the training needs of other workers are overlooked.

Photo of Dan Wright"The NHS provides us with a case study to highlight the disadvantages of training cutbacks."

The role played by non-medical staff in the provision of health services is vital, helping organisations to function effectively as well as meeting the ancillary needs of their patients. Providing effective training is therefore crucial to ensure these workers are able to perform at their best.

But for health service employers, the task of providing training to this group can seem a daunting one. The diversity and range of skills required means that simple training solutions are difficult to find.

Many employers also have concerns about placing an additional drain on already tight budgets. When the public accounts committee recently announced that the NHS in England had created a £515m budget surplus, it was trumpeted as excellent news for future investment in patient services. However, Dr Ian Wilson of the BMA's consultants committee pointed out that in order to balance budgets, health organisations had often eaten into their training budgets.

Dr Wilson recommended that training funds should in future be ring-fenced against 'further raids by cash-strapped trusts', because ultimately it's a false economy. Training is necessary to aid staff retention, especially in sectors where shortages are a perennial problem. Three quarters of employers believe training is the single best way to boost staff retention levels, according to the 2007 International Workplace Survey, conducted by Robert Half International. So a reduction in training will have a direct impact on the numbers of workers choosing to leave, having a knock on effect on staff workloads and performance.

"Training funds should in future be ring-fenced against 'further raids by cash-strapped trusts', because ultimately it's a false economy"

Yet the problem can be easily overcome: health service employers - like those in other sectors - can access the services of skills brokers or independent training providers through the government-funded network of Learning and Skills Councils. Through this route, they can obtain full training audits, and perhaps obtain government funding to support their training needs.

In some cases the needs of medical and non-medical workers can be dealt with collectively. One example is the NVQUK STARS programme, which launched last year to all health organisations after a successful trial with BUPA. This programme is the result of a partnership between NVQUK, a health service training specialist, and Protocol Skills, a training provider with experience across various business sectors.

By combining knowledge and practice from inside and outside the health service, the programme aims to ensure non-medical workers receive the same standard of training support as their medically-trained colleagues.

The NHS provides us with a case study to highlight the disadvantages of training cutbacks. However, it's the backroom workers in other sectors who may be worst effected by the trend. In workplaces where training isn't potentially life-saving, it's even easier for staff development to fall off the radar, particularly for lower level support staff.

Organisations should understand that there's an unprecedented level of advice and funding available, as well as training programmes that can fit easily around staff duties to ensure the needs of all workers can be met. The issue of 'forgotten workers' need not be an issue anymore.

Dan Wright is chief executive of Protocol Skills, a leading training provider across a wide range of business sectors. For more information about the STARS programme, visit or phone Protocol Skills on 0845 071 9011. Alternatively contact NVQUK. E-mail: [email protected], Tel: 01344 887676. Web:


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