Department of Health launches Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy

Date published: 14 May 2018

A long-term strategy for Northern Ireland’s health and social care workforce has been unveiled, alongside details of significant new staffing-related investment.

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The Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026: Delivering for Our People sets out ambitious goals for a workforce that will match the requirements of a transformed system. It also addresses the need to tackle serious challenges with supply, recruitment and retention of staff.

At the heart of the new strategy is the vision of health and social care being a rewarding and fulfilling place to work for everyone, with the best possible staffing and expertise levels in place.

The Department of Health has also today confirmed details of an initial allocation of £15m in workforce development, from the £100m transformation fund for 2018/19.

Around a third of the £15m will be directed towards the nursing, midwifery and Allied Health Professional workforce. This will include funding for 74 additional pre-registration nursing places, and 25 additional midwifery places, meaning a total of 1000 nursing and midwifery training places are being commissioned from universities in 2018/19 – an all-time high in Northern Ireland.

The transformation funding will also support other training investment in nursing, midwifery, nursing assistants, physiotherapy, radiography, paramedics and medical specialties. The investment will boost a key transformation goal of developing new ways of working across health and social care.

Welcoming the launch of the Workforce Strategy, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said:

“Health and social care colleagues work tirelessly to provide the care needed by patients and other service users. The system could not run without the skill, dedication and commitment of our talented, hard-working colleagues, across all disciplines, professions and levels.

“We therefore owe it to them, and to the people of Northern Ireland, to address the workforce issues that need to be fixed.  And we need to ensure that we aren’t just fixing the problems from 2006 or 2016.  We need to look forward to 2026.

“The investment announced today is certainly welcome and will make an important difference. The workforce challenges are certainly not unique to Northern Ireland and resolving them is a long-term task, inextricably linked to the need to transform the way we deliver services.”

The Workforce Strategy has been developed by the Department, and HSC bodies and health and social care providers in close co-operation with trade unions and other organisations.  The Strategy document includes a very detailed look at the workforce problems and challenges facing health and social care in Northern Ireland, which was produced following significant engagement with the workforce. The Department is committed to further close and cooperative working over the life of the strategy to implement the actions.

Implementation will also be informed by key reviews – the Nursing and Midwifery Task Group is due to report later this year, and a review of required medical training places will be completed next month.

It is estimated that the total health and social care field – including the public, private and voluntary sectors – accounts for 122,560 jobs in Northern Ireland. In the region of £2.3 billion a year is invested in directly employed HSC staffing.

Key actions outlined in the Workforce Strategy include:

  • Develop and, by 2026, sustainably fund, an optimum workforce model for reconfigured health and social care services
  • Take account of and plan for the workforce implications arising from the UK’s exit from the EU and the subsequent implications for the EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA workforce
  • Explore and establish non-salary incentive programmes as a means of recruiting and/or retaining people and/or dealing with pressures in less popular specialties and locations
  • Set up and roll out a regional health and social care careers service targeted at the existing workforce, young people from the age of 14, and possible returners to service
  • Develop and integrate new ways of working and jobs across health and social care, and fund sustainable training and development programmes that meet service needs
  • Adopt and roll out new regional staff health and wellbeing policy and invest more in occupational health services
  • Co-produce a regional work-life balance policy for health and social care workers
  • Simplify employment arrangements, including examining whether a single employer for all HSC staff is feasible and will produce benefits for staff/patients/ clients

Mr Pengelly added: “This strategy recognises that we need to meet the challenge of making the Northern Ireland health and social care sector an employer of choice, by ensuring that the service is fully staffed, well-trained, and that workers can balance their work around the other commitments in their lives.  This is much easier said than done, but there is no alternative other than to ensure that we address these issues so that by 2026, we have the health and social care service that meets all of our needs.”

The Workforce Strategy is available to download from the Department of Health website.

The Department is also publishing alongside this document: 

• an analysis of the workforce; and 

• a report of the engagement process leading to this strategy

Notes to editors: 

1. The aim of the Strategy is that by 2026, we meet our workforce needs – and the needs of our workforce.

2. The Strategy has three objectives:

  • By 2026, the reconfigured health and social care system has the optimum number of people in place to deliver treatment and care, and promote health and wellbeing to everyone in Northern Ireland, with the best possible combination of skills and expertise
  • By 2021, health and social care is a fulfilling and rewarding place to work and train, and our people feel valued and supported
  • By 2019, the Department and health and social care providers are able to monitor workforce trends and issues effectively, and be able to take proactive action to address these before problems become acute.

3. The Strategy has three consecutive action plan periods, designed to take account of changes and improvements to health and social care over the life of the Strategy to 2026.  The first action plan period runs to 31 December 2020, and contains 24 actions.  Detailed action plans on each will be co-produced between the Department, health and social care service employers and trade unions, and other interest groups.

4. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt

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