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Learning for Everyone - A Development Plan for the NHS

The Department of Health's Consultation Document

The UNISON Scotland Response

March 2003

Executive Summary

UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Executive's questions set in relation to the Department of Health consultation paper on the establishment of a NHS University.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the establishment of NHS University. We are pleased that this new organisation will focus on developing the potential of ALL staff in the NHS. UNISON Scotland believes that this is a major development in adult learning in the UK and welcomes the Government's commitment to ensuring that the NHS will become a learning organisation and that learning in the workplace will be a priority for funding and development.

UNISON Scotland is broadly supportive of the proposals contained in the consultation document, which will widen access to learning opportunities for those workers in the NHS who have not traditionally taken part in post-school education and training. UNISON Scotland firmly believes that the NHSU has the potential to greatly enhance learning in the workplace and offer those on low incomes the chance to acquire new skills and competencies and the opportunity to further develop their potential.

UNISON Scotland also welcomes the proposals to establish NHSU learning pathways into employment in the NHS for young people from socially excluded backgrounds. UNISON Scotland is pleased that the Government is showing such a high level of commitment to ensuring an inclusive partnership between the wider community and the NHS.

UNISON Scotland believes that learning has the ability to transform lives and we welcome the overall vision of the NHSU set out in the consultation document.

However, UNISON Scotland has reservations concerning the merits of the full-scale adoption of NHSU arrangements and structures within the learning framework of NHS Scotland. We believe that the full assimilation of the NHSU model without prior consultation with NHS Education for Scotland would be problematic and raise a real danger of the two organisations duplicating effort.


UNISON is Scotland's biggest health union representing thousands of NHS staff throughout the country. Our members include nursing, ancillary and clerical staff, all of whom the NHS depends upon to ensure the safe and effective functioning of the NHS in Scotland.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the questions posed by the Executive in relation to the Department of Health's consultation document entitled: ‘A Development Plan for the NHS - Learning for Everyone'.



 The UK Government launched the consultation document, Learning for Everyone, in November 2002 with the stated aim of establishing a university for the NHS. The NHSU is being set up by the Government to support the modernisation of the NHS. The NHSU will focus solely on providing practical learning for more than 1.6 million people who work for and with the NHS.

The Government envisages that the NHSU will be guided in its development by the following principles:

  • Equity of access to learning for all who work in the NHS
  • Relevance to the needs of the service and to individuals
  • Learning in a place and at a time that suits individual needs
  • Advice and guidance for learners throughout all stages of their learning
  • Opportunities for Multi-professional learning
  • High quality in all aspects of local delivery

Although the ‘Learning for Everyone' consultation was prepared by the Department of Health with an English interpretation in mind, the Scottish Executive has decided to publish a short consultation exercise comprising of seven questions on the issues surrounding the geographical reach of the NHSU and the possible scope of its operation in Scotland.

This paper is UNISON Scotland's response to the above mentioned Scottish Executive consultation exercise.


  1. What do you think of the proposed overall vision for NHSU?
  2. UNISON Scotland commends the Governments breadth of vision in establishing a NHS University and especially welcomes those proposals within the consultation document, which are designed to unlock and extend the skills and talents of staff, at all levels, within the NHS.

    UNISON Scotland welcomes the Governments commitment in the consultation document to ensure the NHSU works in partnership and collaboration with a wide

    range of bodies, including trade unions. UNISON Scotland believes that the trade union movement has a clear role to play in ensuring the effective functioning of the NHSU and that only through working in partnership with the trade unions will the NHSU be able to fully develop the potential of all staff in the NHS.

    UNISON Scotland is broadly supportive of the NHSU strategy to provide a comprehensive range of learning services for NHS staff and the plans to provide a wide-ranging package of support structures for new learners. UNISON Scotland believes that the development of these support structures must be given a high priority as many of those who will be accessing these new learning opportunities provided by the NHSU, will be doing so from a low skills base initially. We believe that without proper structures for confidence building and support there will be a high incidence of withdrawals from NHSU courses by those members of staff who stand to benefit the most from these new learning opportunities.

    UNISON Scotland is pleased that the Government has made a commitment to ensuring the highest international standards are adopted in the provision of learning services within the NHSU. However, UNISON Scotland would urge the NHSU to ensure that the criteria for securing learning services from outside agencies be based on a commitment to public services, competence to do the job and ability to deliver, and not on cost.

    UNISON Scotland, along with other NHS trade unions know only to well the true costs of contracting out essential NHS services to private companies. UNISON Scotland firmly believes that in order to ensure the development and improvement of staff learning and healthcare delivery, all providers of services to the NHSU must be able to demonstrate not only competency in their ability to do the job but also a commitment to public services.

    In addition, UNISON Scotland welcomes the Governments commitment in the consultation document to the adoption of a patient centred learning approach in the NHSU. UNISON Scotland welcomes this approach to learning within the NHS and believes that putting the needs of patients and carers at the heart of learning will have a positive effect on the quality of care delivered within the NHS.

  3. How well do you think the model proposed could work in Scotland?

UNISON Scotland believes the NHSU model contains much that is to be commended especially in terms of contributing to the development and modernisation of the NHS. We believe the Government to have shown initiative in pressing forward with the plans to establish a learning culture within NHS and believe that the NHSU, in time, can evolve into an integral component in supporting the NHS to provide world-class public health care in the UK.

However, UNISON Scotland also believes that much of what the NHSU proposes in terms of fulfilling the personal learning and development needs of NHS staff in Scotland already falls within the remit of the Special Health Board, NHS Education Scotland.

UNISON Scotland has reservations therefore concerning the value of the full-scale adoption of NHSU arrangements and structures within the learning framework of NHS Scotland. UNISON Scotland believes it neither practical nor feasible to adopt wholesale the NHSU blueprint that has been established for England and Wales. We believe that the full assimilation of the NHSU model with Scottish arrangements for NHS staff learning and development would be problematic and raise a real danger of the two organisations duplicating effort and wasting both economic and human resources.

3.What sort of contributions do you think NHSU could usefully make in Scotland?

Whilst being aware of the similarity in aims, objectives of NHS Education for Scotland and the NHSU in England and Wales, UNISON Scotland also recognises that there are important areas of divergence between the respective organisations.

UNISON Scotland believes that NHS Education for Scotland, established as an umbrella organisation of three different professional healthcare bodies covering medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing, will in the short to medium term continue to concentrate its focus on promoting and supporting the learning needs of professional healthcare staff.

Conversely the principles, which will guide the development of the NHSU emphasise access for all NHS staff to learning opportunities and also equity of access, ensuring that the learning services provided by the NHSU take into account the wide range of backgrounds and aspirations of all NHS staff.

UNISON Scotland believes therefore that of the two organisations, the NHSU has the greater potential to provide learning opportunities, which are inclusive, accessible and relevant to those staff employed in non-professional occupations within the NHS.

UNISON Scotland believes that the NHSU has the potential to make a significant contribution to improving service delivery and patient care within Scotland if a partnership, based on shared knowledge and experience could be established between NHS Education for Scotland and the NHSU.


4. How do you think that NHSU could support current and future education arrangements in Scotland?

UNISON Scotland recognises that NHS Education for Scotland has legal authority for overseeing the provision, delivery and implementation of healthcare education and training in Scotland. However, UNISON Scotland believes that because of the NHSU commitment to an ‘inclusive ethos' it would be advantageous if the NHSU, perhaps working in partnership with NHS Education for Scotland, contribute in delivering learning and training for non-professional staff groups in NHS Scotland.


5. What should be done to ensure that the possible benefits described in the NHSU paper are realised?

UNISON Scotland believes that trade unions have a clear role to play in ensuring that the potential benefits of the NHSU are realised. We believe that by developing partnerships with health service trade unions the NHSU would benefit from our experience in the in the development of support initiatives and educational tools for our own membership.

UNISON Scotland also believes that greater involvement of staff in the governance and management of higher education institutions, both by the inclusion of staff on governing bodies and by real involvement with partnership would be beneficial for the NHSU.

With the NHSU being responsible for researching, developing and delivering a wide portfolio of learning programmes UNISON Scotland believes that it is important for NHS staff and patients in Scotland to benefit from this experience.

UNISON Scotland believes that in order for both staff and patients of NHS Scotland to benefit from the learning potential and advances in patient care offered by the NHSU, NHS Education for Scotland needs to forge strong links between itself and the NHSU.

UNISON Scotland believes that only by the establishment of a strategic alliance between the two organisations can NHS Scotland fully share in the learning and healthcare benefits offered by the NHSU.


6. What are the benefits the NHSU might derive by operating in Scotland?

UNISON Scotland is confident that benefits would flow in both directions from an alliance between NHS Education for Scotland and the NHSU. In practical terms, Unison Scotland believes that joint involvement in the design; preparation and implementation of learning programmes can benefit the NHSU by developing its capability to better support learning and improve patient care.

UNISON Scotland also believes the NHSU would benefit from research partnerships with Scottish medical research institutions, many of whom have an excellent standing in the world of medical research.

In addition, UNISON Scotland believes that the input from NHS Scotland staff, patients and trade unions would strengthen NHSU experience and knowledge in the provision of learning programmes and add extra value to the learning experiences of other staff in the NHS.

7. Are there broader implications that should be considered?

UNISON Scotland believes that adjustments suited to Scottish needs must be implemented in the delivery of any NHSU learning programmes. We believe that a ‘one size fits all' approach to healthcare provision would be counter productive and consideration of local practices must be respected in the planning, implementation and delivery of NHSU learning programmes within NHS Scotland.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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