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Working Well in Health - Event Series

We recently hosted our 'Working Well in Health - The Changes, Challenges and Opportunities for Developing your Workforce event with our Keynote Speakers: Laura Serrant, Leadership, Development and Inclusive Practice Specialist, Mark Radford, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer and National Director of Long Term Workforce Plan for Delivery for NHS England, and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer - England and Alison Machin Chair of the Council of Deans of Health.

Working Well in Healthcare: The Changes, Challenges and Opportunities for Developing your Workforce

Event overview

Health leaders from across the UK set out their views and vision for developing a sustainable, supported, and skilled healthcare workforce for the future, at an event hosted and organised by Northumbria University. 

The half-day, hybrid conference, entitled ‘Working Well in Healthcare: The Changes, Challenges and Opportunities for Developing your Workforce’, brought together expert speakers, senior leaders, people managers and workforce development and education leads to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, as outlined in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

With speakers including Professor Mark Radford, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer and National Director of Long Term Workforce Plan for Delivery for NHS England; Professor Alison Machin, Chair of the Council of Deans of Health; Professor Laura Serrant, Leadership, Development, and Inclusive Practice Specialist; and Emeritus Professor Debra Porteous, the event focused on the goals of the Plan, which aims to tackle significant challenges around recruiting, developing, training, and retaining people within the NHS. 

The conference highlighted several ways that the industry can develop, nurture and support its professionals in reaching their career goals by adopting innovative approaches to work, wellbeing, training, and productivity. It also reinforced the importance of ensuring equity across the workforce when it comes to supporting staff retention and reforming the way the industry recruits, deploys and offers training opportunities.  

Key overview and key topics

Speaker biography

Alison is a Professor of Nursing and Interprofessional Education and Head of the Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. In 2023 she was appointed Chair of the Council of Deans of Health, UK wide. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Previous posts held include Dean of the School of Health and Social Care at Edinburgh Napier University and Deputy Faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor at Northumbria University. She has also been the strategic lead for a high profile, international nurse education collaborative venture in Malta in partnership with Malta College of Arts Science and Technology.

Alison has worked in higher education since 1999, she is an active researcher and an experienced PhD supervisor and examiner. She is a registered nurse and health visitor. Her research interests include: interprofessional education; nursing and healthcare collaborative workforce development; professional identity; health visiting; public health and using qualitative methodologies including grounded theory.

Keynote overview

Professor Alison Machin opened her presentation by reiterating the importance of an ongoing dialogue to maintain momentum around the workforce agenda, to secure the future of healthcare.

She began by outlining the vision, mission, and manifesto for the Council of Deans of Health which represents 105 university members across the UK and seeks to advance and promote healthcare education and research for public benefit, influence Government policy and connect its members.

The Council’s current manifesto summarises four key priority areas, including work to boost healthcare student recruitment and retention and a focus on expanding and diversifying placements for healthcare students, to support and grow the workforce pipeline of the future. She also shared an overview of the wide range of Council resources and reports that are available online to anyone in the sector interested healthcare and higher education policy.

Professor Machin concluded by discussing her PhD research (Machin, Machin & Pearson 2012) – the themes of which are still very much current and topical today. In her research, Professor Machin explored interprofessional wellbeing. Her study highlighted the need to create psychological wellbeing and a sense of belonging to better support healthcare professionals in their roles.

Key quotes

“One of the overarching principles for the Council of Deans of Health, is that this has to be a joint endeavour. It’s about universities, but it’s also about providers of placements and learning opportunities, and it’s about employers out there in the NHS, and healthcare service providers too – all of us working together across the sector. One of our asks of Government is that this joined up working happens at Ministerial level as well. From my experience in my role, I see that it’s not as connected as it should be and this is one of the key things the Council is pushing for, especially around the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.”

“In an interprofessional context, ‘in group’ discussions and networking are needed to learn together to facilitate a greater sense of group identity. This stabilises a sense of belonging which has a positive influence on collaborative working with other professional groups. Discussions need to be facilitated in such a way that individuals can learn and help others to learn and feel their differences are valued whilst seeking common ground to move forward. It’s important to recognise similarity, whilst valuing difference.”

“With the current proliferation of roles across the system, people need support to connect and interact. There’s a lot of change going on. It was quite clear in my study that individuals need to feel valued in that change. We mustn’t assume that everyone – in different roles or settings – thinks and feels the same. We need to drill down to individuals; we need to understand the history that they have brought to a role and that they have different views – and they all need to feel valued.”

Speaker biography

John Unsworth is currently the Deputy Faculty Pro Vice Chancellor for the Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University, he has worked in Higher Education since 2007 and has held posts at the Higher Education Academy, University of Sunderland and at previously at Northumbria University. John’s research relates to patient safety and workforce development, with a specific focus on competence.

John has a background in primary and community care having been a Nurse Director in a geographically large Primary Care Trust in England. From 2001 to 2007 John was professional lead for nursing, allied health, and adult social care / social work within Northumberland NHS Care Trust. Until 2018 he was Board Nurse on NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group. During the pandemic he has worked for NHS Test and Trace and as a Clinical Contact Caseworker, as well as delivering Covid-19 vaccines in Primary Care.

He has also worked in consultancy and several specialist nursing roles over the past 30 years. In 2013 John was made a National Teaching Fellow in recognition of his work around simulation education and student assessment. He became a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2016. John has worked internationally to develop practice and higher education teachers in Thailand, China, Hungary, Ghana, Vietnam, Bahrain, Ukraine and in Grenada (West Indies).

John is a Fellow of the European Academy of Nursing Science and a Fellow of the Faculty of Nursing of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland. He is also a Global Nursing Leadership Institute Scholar with the International Council of Nurses and has a lead role in influencing UK policy as Chair of the Queen’s Nursing Institute.

John was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2022 Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to community nursing and community nurse education.

Presentation overview

As well as hosting the day, Professor John Unsworth provided an overview Northumbria University’s work to drive health and social equity, as a precursor to the second keynote from Professor Serrant.

He outlined Northumbria’s ambitious plans for the Centre for Health and Social Equity (CHASE), which will be a flagship centre of excellence for research and training to meet the needs of stakeholders and communities in Newcastle, across the region, nationally and beyond. CHASE will increase the University’s capacity to train new professionals and deliver more continuing professional development (CPD) courses for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

Whilst CHASE will help to tackle health inequalities, Professor Unsworth explained the difference between equality and equity: equality is about supporting the entire population, whereas equity provides targeted resources and supports populations most in need. He highlighted that equity is the primary focus for CHASE, and that it is also a key driver for Northumbria University as a whole, which has an ongoing commitment to social mobility.

Professor Unsworth concluded by summarising Northumbria University’s role in helping the industry to overcome its recruitment challenges. He described the continued contribution the University makes to developing the current and future healthcare workforce, through its growing range of programmes, proactive work to widen participation, and its workforce transformation and CPD activity.

Key quotes

“The North East has significantly poorer health than other regions, with communities and groups of people who are marginalised in terms of education, as well as social, cultural and economic life. In addition, there are increasing gaps in the workforce across the UK in growth areas like technology, particularly in health and social care. CHASE will bring together teams of researchers, educators and consultants in this new inter-disciplinary centre; we aim to contribute to improved health equity through innovation, research and knowledge exchange.”

“CHASE goes much further than a building. We are looking at our equity footprint as an institution, as well as the equity footprint of everybody that we work with. When we let a contract, we’re looking at how our suppliers develop and contribute to health and social equity for their workforce and for the populations that they serve.”

“At Northumbria, we are proactively driving forward educational growth and system support focused on delivery of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. We strive to widen course participation by offering as may routes into higher education as possible. This includes increasing Nursing and Allied Health Practitioner (AHP) places; developing new apprenticeships and routes to entry; working to improve progression to employment; and working on Advanced Clinical Practitioner pathways and Primary Care programmes.”

Speaker biography

Professor Laura Serrant OBE works with individuals and organisations to help them meet their personal aspirations, corporate and social responsibilities of optimising inclusive practice to improve their business impact, improve their client experiences and deliver their best version of themselves.

Author of over 100 articles, including edited books, she is one of the BBC Expert women and was named as the 8th most influential Black person in Britain by the Powerlist UK and was awarded an OBE in the 2018 Queens Birthday Honours’ list. She has a successful podcast ‘Speaking for Ourselves’ available on most podcast platforms. 

Her seminal poem ‘You Called...And We Came’ commemorates the anniversary of the Empire Windrush landing and the NHS. The poem stands as the inscription on the National Windrush Monument in Waterloo Station, London.

Keynote overview

Professor Laura Serrant’s keynote picked up on the themes of inclusion and belonging and focused on the importance of wellbeing support and the need to drive social equality, equity and justice, in order to retain invaluable talent.

Referring back to the Wanless Report, published in 2004, Professor Serrant explained the importance of combining efforts between a diversity of professions, working in a diversity of places, in order to deliver effectively as a health and social care sector for patients, communities and society. She reiterated that, across diverse roles – from bedside to policy and research – it’s imperative that we support diversity and belonging to sustain and retain people in the sector.

She also explained the value of a global perspective when considering workforce development in the UK. From the very beginnings of the NHS in 1948, Professor Serrant reminded the audience that healthcare has always been a global profession and highlighted the need for all health professionals to understand their contribution to global health – in terms of delivering high quality care and creating equity and belonging in the workforce.

Professor Serrant reflected on the discomfort that discussions and training around equity, diversity and inclusion can cause, especially where there is a lack of clarity about how individuals can make a practical difference. She highlighted that the fear of ‘getting in wrong’ often prevents action, rather than a lack of care or concern. But to build resilience, especially in challenging times, she encouraged the audience to take their own small steps forward and make individual contributions to improving equity in their own space. She explained that the aim is ultimately to achieve social justice – removing barriers and address the fundamental cause of the problem.

Professor Serrant reflected on her own journey, as a black female nurse, and the challenges of ‘fitting in’. She explained the need to stop thinking about diversity solely in relation to protected characteristics, which fail to tell the ‘whole story’ of an individual. Instead, an understanding of intersectional diversity is critical. Without this diversity retention in the sector will remain an issue.

In conclusion, Professor Serrant advocated for authentic leadership within healthcare. She talked about the importance of people leading ‘as themselves’ and the need for a mindset shift – from the fear of getting it wrong, to positive action that will contribute to nurturing wellness and equity in the workforce.

Key quotes

“Equity and having an equal chance doesn’t just apply to healthcare and social care services, it also applies to the workforce – at all stages of a career. Feeling that you actually belong to a workforce is one of the major challenges that we have. We must optimise equity, inclusion and belonging, not just for the benefit of ourselves but for our professions.”

“Global health is about how we understand the contributions that we all make individually and collectively. As healthcare professionals, we must contribute as well as respond to social, political and strategic drivers in society.

The space we are trying to create is one in which people feel they are confident and competent to think about their intentions, as well as helping and supporting other people. Belonging and inclusion – in our education, practice, and policy – are fundamental to the continuity of the people we want to attract and retain.”

“Even now, even with revisions in the NMC competencies recently, equity and inclusion are a recommended golden thread. You know the problem with golden threads, they disappear. It’s not compulsory. How can it be, that in the 21st Century that we are training healthcare practitioners in a space where equality and equity is not compulsory and then we say that they are fit to practice. How can that be?”

“It’s not inclusion if you invite people into a space that you’re unwilling to change!”

“Belonging and inclusion in education, in practice and in policy is absolutely crucial for the survival of our profession and for the continuation of the people we’re trying to attract in.”

“Allow yourself to be human. Make peace with being perfectly imperfect. And shift your thoughts of what you could do, to your actions, because that’s what will make a difference.”

Speaker biography

Professor Mark Radford is currently Deputy Chief Nursing Officer and National Director of Long Term Workforce Plan for Delivery for NHS England. He was formerly the Chief Nurse of Health Education England. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark led the national NHS vaccine workforce program ensuring the success in phase one delivery of 15m vaccinations. The program recruited and trained over 250k people including 90k clinicians and 70k volunteers in a few months to launch one of the world’s fastest programs. He also led the deployment of student nurses in the pandemic response waves one and two, with 71 Universities in England.

As Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England, Mark supports the Chief Nursing Officer in ensuring the NHS workforce is fit for the future. This includes recruitment and retention, skills development, maintaining the quality of management and leadership, tackling inequality and breaking down barriers, ensuring places of work are rewarding, positive and filled with opportunity, and enabling more volunteers to support front-line staff. 

Throughout his clinical career, Mark has maintained his academic interests. He has been involved in multiple research projects looking at the roles of nursing in advanced practice, gender disparity and pay, as well as big data analysis of nursing and retention, among others. He has also published five books on emergency and perioperative surgery throughout his career. He is also a Professor of Nursing at Birmingham City University and Coventry University, with research covering emergency care models, advanced practice, staffing, risk modelling, clinical decision-making, expertise and sociological issues in healthcare.

Mark was honoured with a CBE in The Queen’s New Year Honours 2022 list. 

Keynote overview

Professor Mark Radford, who joined the event virtually, provided an overview of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, its ambitions for growth, retention and reform, and the importance of higher education in this transformation.

Professor Radford explained that the workforce plan sets out a strategic vision and builds on Framework 15 (the long-term strategic framework for health and social care workforce planning). Importantly, he highlighted, that the plan was created very differently. Rather than being led by the funding available, work to shape the plan began with defining where the NHS needs to be in 15 years’ time – from both a workforce and a service delivery perspective. This included a comprehensive assessment of what health looks like, and therefore what the workforce needs to look like too. Once that vision had been shaped, subsequent discussions with Government and key stakeholders identified the funding required (£2.4bn) to achieve the aims of the plan.

Professor Radford went on to explore the critical issue of retention. Based on the numbers projected in the workforce plan, he highlighted that 20% of all people of working age will need to be employed in health and social care settings by 2038, just to meet demand. As a result, he reiterated that retention will be key to both the quality of service delivery and to supporting, leading and training the next generation of healthcare professionals as they join the sector.

To bring the numbers into sharp perspective, Professor Radford stated that the NHS will need 550,000 nurses by 2038 – describing the scale of the challenge as ‘biblical’. The workforce plan, therefore, looks at all options for growth, alongside the need to create a multi-professional practice model. He advocated for the growing number of non-traditional routes into both nursing and support roles – providing opportunities for people at different life stages and from diverse backgrounds.

Professor Radford concluded by touching on the reform aspect of the workforce plan and the ongoing work with universities, such as Northumbria, to create a more flexible and innovative approach to learning, as well as encouraging more diverse pathways into the sector.

Key quotes

“The NHS has been provided with £2.4 billion of funding, in addition to what we already have; that is a considerable investment package which will significantly expand domestic education, training, and recruitment to have more doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals working in the NHS.”

“We need to think about how we can get people involved in university programmes and build career opportunities by expanding existing pathways – including internships, medical degrees and apprenticeship programmes.”

“The way in which we address the issues in our healthcare workforce is going to be different going forward. There will be a significant shift in the next few years towards surveillance and support. We want to get close to where people are planning the service design and delivery, and improving wider access and participation from a diverse community.”

“We’re starting to think about reform means – from what we expect people to do, to how do we give them the skills to do it, and then importantly, what are the types of roles that they are likely to be doing in 10 or 15 years’ time.”

Panellist biography: Emeritus Professor Debra Porteous

Former Head of Department for Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University and Professor Emeritus, has 42 years of teaching experience with students and colleagues in a professional nursing/ healthcare practice setting (1986-1995) and in a Higher Education setting (1995 – 2024), at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral academic levels. Her clinical practice has focused on children’s nursing where Debra has led teams of nurses/doctors to be nationally recognised for the care given to children and families. An area of interest is empowering parents and young people to have a voice in the care they receive.

Debra has achieved a professional doctorate and is interested in the student experience within higher education relating to nurse education. Debra is a significant contributor to knowledge in her discipline, advancing theory and practice, through research and presentations/engagement in regional and national bodies.

Panel overview

The final section of the conference looked specifically at the ways in which healthcare providers can better support, develop, and retain staff throughout their careers by adopting innovative approaches to work, wellbeing, training, and productivity.

Through a Q&A think tank session, the panel of experts discussed recruitment processes within the healthcare sector, the role of Professional Nurse Educators (PNE), the future of international recruitment, redeployment, and the importance of emotional intelligence and supporting soft skills.

Professor Porteous said: “We need to offer integrated healthcare in our regions to meet the needs of the local population, which is diverse. We also need to help develop the wellbeing of the workforce so they feel valued, and acknowledge that they are making a significant contribution when coming to work; they are making a difference and they must have an opportunity to be themselves.”

Read Professor Unsworth’s key takeaways from the panel session and the event as a whole


Watch our event film below:


working well in health


More information

This hybrid event was designed specifically for senior leaders, HR and people workforce managers in the NHS, private and third sectors, in a bid to support and develop the next generation of nursing and healthcare professionals.

Through its continuing professional development (CPD) and workforce programmes, Northumbria University plays an important role in tackling workforce shortages and supporting NHS England to deliver on their plan.

The event was the first in a series designed to support the healthcare sector with workforce development. To register your interest for future events, please complete the form below.

Working Well in Health - Event Series - Register your Interest for Future Events

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