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'Training gap' in healthcare sector puts patients at risk, finds survey of managers


More than over three quarters (78%) of managers surveyed in the healthcare sector believe patient care is at risk due to a lack of proper staff training and development, according to the latest research from the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM).

Some 87% of those surveyed believe this training gap has resulted in low team morale while a further 87% cite a lack of confidence in staff as a direct consequence, resulting in slipping standards and ultimately, putting patients at risk.

The survey by the IHM, the professional body for health and care managers in the UK, comes in the wake of the Government commissioned King's Fund's report into leadership for engagement in the NHS, which will be launched at its Second Annual Summit today (23 May).

A key point on the agenda at the conference is how to support the development of leadership qualities in NHS managers and secure the future of the Health Service through strong leadership at all levels.

Despite best intentions through their involvement with the King's Fund, the research demonstrates that the Department of Health and NHS still have an uphill struggle on their hands to achieve this. A quarter (24%) of managers surveyed by the IHM feel they don't have access to the support they need to develop their leadership and management skills and a third (33%) think their direct line manager doesn't have the skills and experience necessary to further develop them.

When it comes to training, almost six in 10 of those surveyed (58%) have only had mandatory training in the last year despite the vast majority (69%) calling for more leadership and management training to improve career and skill development in the NHS rather than just mandatory update courses.

Despite regulators such as the Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health advocating performance appraisals as a key part of identifying development and training needs to improve standards, the current appraisal system is not working, with 41% of managers claiming it doesn't play a part in their development and isn't useful.

Moreover, a quarter (24%) of managers haven't had an appraisal for over a year, and a further 11% are either too busy to have one, can't remember their last appraisal or state that there is no appraisal system at their place of work.

Sue Hodgetts, chief executive of the IHM, said: "Despite widespread acknowledgement about the importance of strong leadership and management in the NHS backed by The King's Fund's findings to date, it is clear patients' health and even lives may be at stake as a result of the lack of relevant, good quality leadership and management development programmes currently in place.

"Moreover, 48% of those surveyed believe this lack of investment in continuous professional development makes the NHS an unattractive employer. Not a very encouraging statistic if the Health Service wants to retain and recruit the talent it needs to take it forward at a time of such huge change. There are of course, health and care managers who do have first-class leadership skills that inspire and motivate their teams to do their best and strive to deliver outstanding patient care levels. Unfortunately however, it is a real mixed bag out there at the moment in terms of leadership and management skills.

"Our research findings should act as a real wakeup call to the NHS and policy decision makers that they need to act now and take the issue of leadership and management training seriously, fully supporting investment at all levels before it is too late."

When it comes to what can be done to improve the current situation, three quarters (75%) of those surveyed believe that senior managers need to be given more support in how to develop and train others. A further 65 per cent said that it isn't clear to them how to actually access the support and training available, while 46 per cent felt that more budget should be made available to run leadership courses in the first place.

Hodgetts added: "Our members believe that one way to improve the current situation is the development of a clear set of professional behaviours, universal across disciplines, which managers must adhere to. Sixty five per cent of those we surveyed thought this was a tangible way to drive up standards and create strong leaders.

"The King's Fund report is a step in the right direction in terms of bringing this improvement in leadership standards about, however the real 'proof of the pudding' will be how the Government actually translates the reports findings in to tangible actions. Only then will we see a step change in the improvement of leadership and management practices in the NHS and beyond and help make serious lapses in patient care caused by poor standards, such as the Mid -Staffs and Winterbourne view scandals, a thing of the past."