Professor Margaret Rowe Shares Views for Research Professional News

Categories: School of Health and Society

In an article written for Research Professional News, Professor Margaret Rowe argues for a louder higher education voice on health and social care challenges

At the University of Salford we have around 3,500 nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students on our programmes every year - 5,000 health students in total. We play a crucial role in helping to support NHS England’s long term workforce plan. Our new state of the art health clinic building will host NHS clinics, and we will soon welcome the UK’s first ever Chair in adult social care nursing.

But we are also at the sharp end of the challenges facing health educators around the country. A recent article in Research Professional News made an urgent call for the creation of a cross-government health education taskforce Research Professional - Health scare and we would strongly agree.

Impact of Covid

Leaders and educators in higher education were acutely aware of the challenges faced by the health and care sector before Covid. These challenges have increased. Ripples from the pandemic are still being felt today, and we need to keep these in mind as we work together across the sector to enact change.

After a rise in applications to many health and care programmes during the pandemic, we are all now seeing a gradual reduction. There is no silver bullet to fix this, and the challenges are multi-layered. But the government can help, in so many ways.

For a start, it can raise the profile of the many different career opportunities in the healthcare sector, better promoting the valuable roles that exist across all the allied health professions.

It can also push the new and emerging role of the nursing associate, as well as the unique and valuable role of the midwife and the importance of each field of practice in the nursing profession. All roles need to have parity, and we can do so much more on this.

We need to concentrate not just on the initial elements of each role, but the career progression and development opportunities that come with it. Only in that way will the sector become an attractive career option once again.

Widening participation

The higher education sector is getting better at providing outreach to schools and developing strong partnerships with further education providers—especially important since the advent of T-Levels—and at supporting students to identify health and care as a career option from a much earlier point in their lives.

This approach is vital to ensure that young people are supported to make informed decisions about their future. The decisions they make at school and in further education may not reflect their future career choices but we need to be receptive and open to a range of pathways into health and care education programmes, while increasing apprenticeship numbers across all the health workforce professions.

Students on health and care programmes must also reflect the society  in which they will work, in all its brilliant and vibrant cultural diversity.

Workforce planning

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, launched in 2023, gives us an insight into the huge demands needed to ensure that the NHS has the people it needs to deliver services.

To work with the NHS on delivering this effectively, the higher education sector must also consider workforce planning, ensuring that it has the knowledge, skills and experience to adapt to educational needs in a rapidly evolving care environment. At Salford we already work with our Greater Manchester Integrated Care Board, which is vital to help NHS provider organisations meet financial challenges.

Higher education estates and facilities need to be able to accommodate the increase in student numbers that the workforce plan proposes, while academic colleagues need to be empowered to embrace digital teaching methods, to fully engage and excite our students.

We must also remember that the social care workforce is a significant provider of care, and that we have a responsibility to them and their needs.

Finally, we need to harness our combined strengths across HE, through partnerships and collaboration, to help positively shape the future of our health and care workforce.

It will mean using our voices loudly to champion our cause–not a problem for me since I’m from the North East. But let’s all use our voices to work together for the best mutual advantage.

Margaret Rowe is pro vice chancellor and dean of the school of health and society at the University of Salford

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