Speaking with one voice on the big issues in health and care

13 December 2018

On the  major issues in health care, working collaboratively and speaking with one voice is what helps the Health Foundation to make an even bigger difference to improving health care than if we were working alone. This year, we have partnered with the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund on several joint projects, including producing a joint briefing on the health care workforce in England and analysis of Autumn budget implications for health and social care.

We asked Candace Imison, Director of Policy at the Nuffield Trust and Richard Murray, Director of Policy and incoming Chief Executive at The King’s Fund, to share some reflections on the experience and impact of our collaborative work.

Why do you believe it’s important for our organisations to work together?

Candace: We are all ultimately working to the same aim – to improve the health and health care of the population. I believe that it is important that we work collaboratively to do this. Our collaboration is particularly important when we are addressing an issue that presents a major threat to health and health care. Funding was one such topic and workforce is another.

Richard: For the really big issues facing health and care, you need our organisations to come together to each bring their own expertise to bear. Each on their own would struggle to cover all of the bases. Also, when our organisations speak with one voice it has a lot more impact, both in the media but also with national bodies and policymakers. When they see we are emphasising a particular issue and we think it’s important enough to come together to craft a single message, that’s very powerful.

What do you think the benefits of collaborative working are and what has worked well in our recent collaborations?

Candace: There are significant benefits. In good collaborations the sum is greater than the parts, so what we’re able to say is greatly enhanced through the joint working. The message has more weight and captures people's attention. I think working together also benefits the staff involved as they are exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Richard: In the workforce project, what has worked well is our ability to split up the overall issue into more manageable pieces that each organisation can lead on. Then we’ve come back together again to craft an overall message. As Candace says, we have really tried to be more than the sum of our parts.

In the funding analyses we’ve done, what works well is that each organisation gets the chance to kick the wheels, so to speak, on everybody else’s work. Checking each other’s homework is quite an expensive thing to do, but on something as critical as getting the numbers right, it’s proved to be very successful.

Tell us more about the recent joint work on workforce and its aims. Were there any challenges and how were these addressed?

Candace: On workforce, we wanted to do two things. Firstly, make clear the urgency and significance of the workforce challenges facing health and care. Secondly, encourage policymakers and local leaders to develop robust plans to address these challenges, particularly through the NHS long term plan and subsequent workforce strategies.

I think our first joint briefing has already had some success in addressing the first of these two aims, and we hope our next one will deliver on the second aim. Perhaps our most significant challenge has been the scale of our overall ambition. Workforce is a complex, multi-faceted and wide-ranging area. It has demanded a lot from the staff involved, particularly as our first briefing paper had not originally been planned, so we have found that the project required more time and work than any of us anticipated. 

Richard: I think our aims slightly moved during the course of the workforce project. Initially, we were really emphasising that it was beginning to be the single biggest problem facing the service. As we’ve gone along, we’ve become more positive about our ability to make a real contribution to the solution side. We are not just trying to shed light on the problem, we’re really trying to show the solutions and make them manageable and deliverable for the service. 

There are lots of people across various parts of the NHS and social care working on workforce, but many people struggle to bring their work together into one overall narrative. I’m incredibly impressed that, by coming together, the three of us have managed to do that. I think we’re making real progress in tying together the information, the data and the insight from many different parts of the service into a clear narrative and then setting out what needs to be done to improve it. 

The other challenge, of course, is having to work at considerable pace so we don’t put out our message too late in the day. It’s quite tough keeping up with the timescales, but we hit the first target with the release of our first briefing and I think we’ll hit our second too.

What’s the future of our joint work on workforce and what else can we look forward to next year?

Candace: In early 2019, we’ll deliver the second workforce report. I certainly hope that this won't be the end of our collaboration in this area. Workforce will continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing health and care for the foreseeable future.

Richard: Given the precedent we’ve set on covering big issues around health and care funding, I think we will continue to work together on that too. For 2019 and beyond, there may be a case for further lighter-touch collaboration around workforce. The King’s Fund revises its five-year strategy next year, so we’ll be looking more at the nature of the partnerships and collaborations we develop, and definitely talking to the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust about what more we can do together. 

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