National Workforce Skills Development Unit projects

To date the Unit has been engaged in a broad portfolio of projects with HEE. Here are some examples of our past and current projects: 

Primary care mental health: understanding skills and the current training offer

The majority of mental health patients are treated in primary care. There is significant work ongoing throughout the country to better meet the needs of these patients, showcasing the ability of NHS professionals to adapt and come together. Working with key primary care stakeholders, we aim to build a good understanding of the broad range of primary care mental health frameworks and use these to create a workforce skill matrix. With a broad spectrum, we aim to understand what skills are important for GPs, Practice Nurses, Allied Health Professionals and administrative staff. Emphasising the impressive self-management culture of many primary care organisations, we will produce a tool that allows staff and organisations to assess their own skill range and identify areas where training might help. Recognising the importance of the views of staff on the ground, the tool will be tested and developed with a consultation group drawn from a range of primary care staff volunteers.

Project Deliverables

• Mapping and gap analysis of existing mental health training for primary care professionals to mental health competency frameworks.

• Report and recommendations identifying training gaps and areas where further work is identified.

Read or download the 'Mental health services in England: workforce, policy and practice issues' report [PDF]. 


Brian Rock
Director of Education & Training / Dean of Postgraduate Studies

Brian Rock


Developing good practice in developing new workforce roles

A wide range of reports have identified a need to modify, add to and create new workforce roles as well as identifying both examples of good practice and areas in need of development. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and the emergence of apprenticeships provide good examples of the changing demand on the workforce and some of the new roles needed to meet them.

In the current financial and political environment, it is important that sustainable new roles meet expectations quickly. Developing resources that are built on good working practice and can be used to advise workforce designers will be useful in allowing NHS employers to meet demand and create sustainable new roles that are worthwhile and offer good opportunities for the staff filling them. The Stepping Forward to 2020/21 Mental Health Workforce plan highlights the scale and type of changes that will be required in the future: for instance, the mental health workforce will need 19,000 additional members of staff by 2020 – 8,000 of whom will be employed in new roles.

The contemporary workforce demands employers meet an ever-wider range of needs. The value of a job in today’s employment market is more focused on the needs of the staff member than has been seen in the past. In this dynamic environment, it is important to understand the impact of job roles on employee health, particularly mental health.

As part of this project, we will be working to find examples of good practice in workforce role design, drawing from them and extracting key themes. Using the excellent work already carried out by organisations such as Deloitte and The King’s Fund, we aim to distil what good practice in workforce role design means and provide a practical method of application. The project will offer a unique perspective, being based on the workforce, rather than commissioning or service view. 

Project Deliverables

• A best practice framework, with case studies

• A framework for thinking with a practical checklist for workforce designers


Enhancing management of psychological distress and promoting systemic resilience

People are the most important resource in the NHS, yet in some situations an organisation’s staff can feel undervalued, powerless and invisible. This leads to burn out, increased time off work, low productivity, and reduced empathy and compassion - prompting many to leave the NHS and putting some off from joining it in the first place.

In 2017, Health Education England (HEE) commissioned the National Workforce Skills Development Unit to explore this issue further. In response, the Unit has together with a group of experts developed a framework for thinking about staff mental health and wellbeing.

The framework, entitled “Workforce Stress and the Supportive Organisation: A framework for improvement through reflection, curiosity and change”, provides organisations with a structured process and space to think through and understand the issues confronting their people with the aim of creating a supportive organisation.

The project is now in its second phase which is running from November 2018 to March 2019. The aim of this phase is to test proof of concept and accessibility of the framework. We are therefore inviting organisations to test the framework with us over January and February 2019.

Read more about the testing process, how to get involved and how it will benefit your organisation.

As part of the project, a report was prepared by the Mental Health Foundation, Informed Thinking and the University of Strathclyde to inform the work of the project’s Expert Reference Group by presenting evidence, identifying policy opportunities, and highlighting critical issues for its consideration. Read or download the report.

Elisa Reyes-Simpson
Associate Dean, Academic Governance and Quality Assurance


Elisa Reyes-Simpson



Developing a NHS framework for harmful sexual behaviours in children and young people 

Around a third of child sexual abuse in the UK is carried out by other children or young people according to the NSPCC’s Harmful sexual behaviour framework. Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) can range from ‘sexting’ to aggressive sexual behaviour. Despite increasing evidence on the scale, nature and complexity of the problem, service provision across the UK remains patchy and relatively uncoordinated. Working with children displaying harmful sexual behaviour can be challenging for NHS staff and awareness on the issue is often minimal.

To address the issue, we have teamed up with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to develop an HSB framework supporting NHS staff in dealing with the issue as well as raising awareness on the topic. The NSPCC has already developed a framework used mainly by social care professionals. Part of the project is to extend the framework to the health sector. 

Read or download the 'Harmful sexual behaviours framework' from the NSPCC website [PDF].

So far, we’ve launched two open workshops where health professionals met with the NSPCC to discuss the challenges and work collaboratively on adapting existing framework.  We are also planning to launch an awareness raising campaign. The project is set to run until October 2018. 

Project Deliverables

• A health specific HSB framework published in draft in Oct 18 

• A NHS resource with further information on the framework and the progress on the awareness raising campaign 

• An awareness raising campaign. 


Karen Tanner
Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching/Deputy Director Education and Training

Karen Tanner



Using reflective practice with frequent attenders: development of an e-learning module 

Patients who frequently or inappropriately attend services are a complex challenge for staff, who can be unsure how to best provide care. With resources often stretched, paramedics, GPs and A&E staff with regular contact with frequent attenders can find themselves feeling frustrated and conflicted, unsure of the best course of action. The project’s work aimed to develop e-learning materials for staff who deals with frequent attenders. This e-learning module provides learning through storytelling, with input from expert psychologists. It explains core motivations for frequent attendance and demonstrates how reflective practice can be used to improve outcomes so that staff better meet the needs of these patients.

The module will be available in the UK through the e-Learning for Health.


Brian Rock
Director of Education & Training / Dean of Postgraduate Studies

Brian Rock


Supporting Promotion of Mental Health Careers and Developing Psychology Graduate Career Pathways

The recruitment and retention of high quality mental health staff is essential to meeting the goals and objectives of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. The project aims to support the promotion of mental health careers within the NHS. Existing NHS mental health careers pathways are often complex to understand, and it is likely that this has an impact on recruitment of new staff as well as staff retention.

To gain a better understanding of the issue, we will map out mental health career pathways within the NHS in general and for psychology graduates in particular. Psychology is one of the most popular degrees in the UK and its popularity has been increasing over the past few years. Yet, most psychology graduates do not end up working in mental health careers in the NHS. This project aims to understand any issues that may be contributing to this.

The mapping exercise will include a description of the different roles including entry requirements and career progression, discussion of empirical evidence, analysis of career flexibility and diversity. The analysis will also highlight issues and gaps such as bottlenecks and career dead ends and open the field for further discussions. Several Expert Reference Groups as well as workshops will be held to guide and support our research efforts.

The outcome and benefits of the mapping exercise will be twofold: It will help to illustrate all the current opportunities whilst also drawing attention to barriers to working in mental health for the NHS. This will support HEE in its Workforce Transformation plans to meet the staffing goals of the Stepping Forward to 2020/21 plan.

The project is expected to run until September 2019. 

Project Deliverables

• Two reports will be delivered one will map out general mental health career pathways and a second report focusing on psychology graduate career pathways.


Perinatal Mental Health

The Five year forward view for mental health set out a recommendation of investment to ensure that by 2020/21 “…at least 30,000 more women each year have access to evidence-based specialist mental health care during the perinatal period”. Implementing this commitment will require a significant increase in numbers and upskilling of those working in perinatal care. The unit was commissioned by HEE to conduct the training mapping exercise. It aimed to survey existing and planned perinatal mental health training across England, against the competencies in the perinatal competency framework. Alongside this, the input was collected from expert reference group and perinatal network leads. The report summarised:

• an overview of the education and training delivered to the perinatal mental health workforce in 2016/2017 across England.

• training networks plans for 2017/2018, if resources are available, and

• competencies covered in training sessions and gaps which do not seem to have been considered.

The survey report was submitted in September 2017.


Jo Maitland
Perinatal Mental Health Training and Service Development Lead



Children and young people with learning disability and complex mental health conditions transforming care workforce

This project is in direct response to the Lenehan Review workforce recommendations, 5 and 10 which can be summarised as follows:

1. To clarify the responsibilities of medical and other professionals for children and young people with a mental health condition, autism, challenging behaviour and/or a learning disability and develop jointly owned guidance.

2. To identify skill gaps in respect of caring for children and young people with a mental health condition, autism, challenging behaviour and/or a learning disability.

A fundamental part of this work has been the rapid establishment and launch of an expert reference group as set out in the Lenehan review. This group is now working across a series of work streams to develop a skills matrix to identify the workforce required to manage these children in the community, to enable local areas to identify skills and workforce gaps, and to gather together service principles and values from the available evidence. This will be submitted alongside a contextual report which will also scope out recommendations for further work in this area.


Improving system leadership in children and young people’s Learning Disability services

System leadership in Children and Young People’s Learning Disability and/or autism services is a key area of improvement identified by the Lenehan Report ‘These Are Our Children’, indicating a strong need to break down siloed practice within the systems that work with this group. The need for further work in the area was also identified in the Unit’s Transforming Care Workforce report, which made up part of the 17/18 programme.

Due to the multifaceted nature of leadership, it can often be difficult to develop effectual methods of improving and training staff effectively. The complex, multi-agency nature of work in this field can create further boundaries, warranting the need for in depth exploration and problem solving of the challenges preventing systems from working as effectively as they could. In this project, we will deliver a range of experiential learning courses to staff belonging to these services. In each session, staff will be able to explore in detail the systems they work in, building an understanding of how their interactions shape the way services work with each other. 

Project deliverables

• Two ‘Group relations’ based system leadership development events


Karen Tanner
Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching/Deputy Director Education and Training

Karen Tanner


National Mental Health Workforce Development Collaborative workshop on ‘Thriving at work’

In February 2018, the unit organised a workshop for the National Mental Health Workforce Development Collaborative. The Collaborative is a voluntary group of seven mental health trusts, including: 

1. Avon and Wiltshire Partnership Trust

2. Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

3. Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust

4. Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

5. Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

6. Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

7. Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

The Collaborative workshop considered how to adopt the recommendations from the Thriving at Work review, commissioned by the Prime Minister and led by Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer. HR directors and staff health and wellbeing leads from the Collaborative came together to workshop strategic and operational approaches to implementing the core and enhanced standards from the Stevenson and Farmer’s report. The workshop report is intended to assist NHS organisation in measuring current practice against the recommendations, and to share good practice in developing plans to meet the Stevenson and Farmer’s recommendations. 

Read or download the full Collaborative workshop report.


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