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The NHSU (National Health Service University, NHS University) was a scheme to establish a university for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. It was announced in 2001 but the project never really got off the ground and the nascent institution was abolished in 2005. Allegedly at least £72 million was wasted, considerably more than on UKeU (a parallel UK-based project).


The rest of this section is adapted from NIACE material at http://www.niace.org.uk/information/briefing_sheets/43_NHSU.htm.

The decision to establish a university for the NHS was announced in October 2001, following a commitment in the 2001 Labour Party manifesto. It followed a number of reviews of skills, workforce planning and development in the NHS:

  1. The NHS Plan (Department of Health, 2000) outlined a programme of investment and reform to rebuild the NHS for the 21st century: a health service designed around the patient.
  2. A Health Service of all the Talents (Department of Health, 2001) identified a number of weaknesses in the workforce planning including a gap between the needs of the NHS and the investment and priorities of educational providers and professional bodies.
  3. Hidden Talents (Audit Commission, 2001) identified common learning programmes for all health professionals based on core skills, with flexible arrangements for take-up and delivery.
  4. Working Together - Learning Together (Department of Health, 2001) set out for the first time a comprehensive lifelong learning strategy for the NHS.

The vision of NHSU was:

to contribute to the transformation of the NHS and to help secure radical and tangible improvements for healthcare in this country, by providing learning for everyone. Working in partnership, NHSU will multiply and diversify learning opportunities throughout healthcare for all staff, patients and carers…NHSU will play a leading role on implementing policies for lifelong learning [and] the realisation of a skills escalator in the NHS…We will stimulate and support the creation of learning cultures across the whole of healthcare.

This overall vision of a "university for the NHS" - NHSU - was welcomed by all who believe that learning transforms lives. Not since the creation of the Open University has there been such potential for development of adult learning and for more and different adults to learn.

What was NHSU?

Due to launch in autumn of 2003, NHSU was to be a new kind of corporate university that would make training and development available for everyone at every level of the NHS, including those traditionally left out of workplace learning. The sole focus of NHSU was to be to deliver training and development for staff in healthcare, which benefits patients and service users through better patient care. It was established to help modernise the NHS and deliver the NHS Plan. With over one million people working in healthcare, and a million plus more in social care, NHSU was planned to be the world’s largest corporate university.

Why did the UK need NHSU?

The NHS believed - and still believes - that the quality of healthcare offered to patients depended first and foremost on the availability of well-qualified staff. NHSU aimed to improve patient care by providing staff with the skills and experience, which they need to deliver the best service at every level. This can improve career opportunities, retain and motivate good staff within the service and encourage more people to consider careers in healthcare.

Within the NHS, there were and still are large numbers of staff with little or no experience of education and training since leaving school. NHSU aimed to realise their potential to raise standards across the whole service and make learning a part of everyday life throughout the NHS.

Who was it for?

NHSU would provide learning opportunities for everyone working for and with the NHS, from those without any qualifications at all, right through to those who already have postgraduate degrees and professional qualifications. In time, NHSU was also to include social care.

What was to be delivered?

A whole range of programmes was to be provided, developed and expanded over time. Early curriculum development was driven by a combination of programmes suggested by key officials and strategies within the NHS and Department of Health.

A dedicated NHSU helpline would provide comprehensive advice, support and information, including signposting to existing courses and support for staff looking to return to learning.

Initially, NHSU was developing four programme areas designed to improve patient care - induction to the NHS, communication skills, first contact, and cleaning and infection control - as well as provision to support staff who work within the NHS - skills for life and health, health informatics, educator support, management skills, and clinical fellowships. NHSU also intends to offer staff who have been working in the NHS for over five years, without a formal qualification the opportunity to study for a Foundation Degree.

Eventually NHSU would establish a ‘Learning Needs Observatory’ which will collect data to establish what training and development is needed and also to measure the benefits of learning on patient care

Where and how would learning be delivered?

People will learn at work, in tutorials, with computers through the internet, in teams and face-to-face. NHSU will design programmes to be delivered where, when and how people want them - taking account of their commitments and lifestyle. Opportunities for peer support will be facilitated through the development of networks of learners, working both on-line and face-to-face. NHSU will offer all learners tutorial support, mentoring services and access to specialist services.

How would NHSU work with existing educational organisations that currently provide training?

NHSU intended to enhance rather than duplicate provision. It would work in partnership with a wide range of health and education organisations, to complement and extend what was already available as well as purchasing training. Key partners included the Open University, UfI/learndirect, UK e-university, NIACE, Campaign for Learning, Learning and Skills Council, Sector Skills Council, Department for Education and Skills, Department for Health, Health Authorities, NHS Trusts, Workforce Development Confederations, Primary Care Trusts, Modernisation Agency, Royal Colleges, professional bodies, universities, colleges and private learning providers.

The end

NHSU was closed down after a very adverse review in 2005.

Reports and case studies

  1. NHSU - A ‘University for the National Health Service’
  2. Report warns of embarrassment over NHSu's £72m, 12 Apr 2007
  3. Review of NHSU - Progress and performance (PDF, 255K)
  4. Review of NHSU - Looking forward : a focussed role for NHSU in the wider health education and training system (PDF, 259K)
  5. The NHSU Abolition Order 2005 - abstract at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si2005/20051781.htm

There are several more reports to analyse.

> UK
> Programmes