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Building the Excellence Centre Network

In 2014, the National Skills Academy for Health (NSAH) was awarded financial support from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills to establish a network of Excellence Centres for health sector support workers across the UK. Two years on, Frances Nicholson, Head of Operations, Learning Services, explains the important role the Excellence Centres play and outlines plans for 2017.

The first Excellence Centre, hosted by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, was the UK’s first ever health sector employer-led regional hub dedicated to training and the development of skills for the nation’s vital support workforce. Since then the concept has gone from strength to strength and in two years we have established 10 Excellence Centres across England, from West Yorkshire to Devon, with more in the pipeline.

Image: Excellence centre network.

Nearly 800,000 people make up the support workforce across the UK, each playing a significant role in the quality and effectiveness of our healthcare services. Historically the availability of high quality training for the support workforce has been inconsistent, underfunded and difficult to access. The Excellence Centre network is helping to change that.

The Excellence Centre network has supported a significant volume of learners since 2014. We have helped hundreds of support workers develop their skills and, as the network grows, we aim to support many hundreds more.  Our vision is to create a qualified and transferable workforce by ensuring each individual has access to consistent high quality training that meets their needs, the needs of their employer and crucially the needs of the community they serve.

How does an Excellence Centre work?

In simple terms, an Excellence Centre is a local hub, hosted and run by two or more healthcare employers, to give healthcare support staff from the NHS, independent and voluntary sectors access to high quality training.

Each Excellence Centre is supported by other healthcare employers in the local area alongside quality delivery partners. Employers offer training to their own and each other’s staff both directly and through support provided by the delivery partners. We have 629 employers and 68 quality learning providers currently engaging with our hubs.

This collaborative way of working sees employers making the best use of available resources, sharing best possible practice and providing increased access to high quality training. For example, SMEs and GP practices can access the same high quality training that large NHS and independent healthcare providers can provide, through in-house training departments or the ability to secure better deals from local education organisations, leading to greater consistency of skills across all organisations within a healthcare economy.

The benefits don’t stop there. Individually, and collectively as the National Skills Academy for Health Excellence Centre Network, the hubs put employers in the driving seat to develop new training programmes or resources and share or adapt existing programmes based on their needs; empowering employers in designing the required training for their staff. These new and revised training materials are then made available through Excellence Centre partnership groups and across the network as a whole. This reduces duplication and ensures that all parts of the country have access to proven, employer-designed training resources. One example, is the recently launched Advanced Care Planning (ACP) toolkit, developed with Dorothy House Hospice. This is a complete teaching resource to help build skills and confidence in understanding what can be a difficult and sensitive area of practice.

ACP discussions take place between an individual and their care providers, to make their wishes clear ahead of their condition deteriorating in the future. It is a process that all health and social care staff will have a role in, but many can feel lacking in the skills and knowledge they need. The toolkit has been written by end-of-life specialists and includes presentations, a facilitator’s guide and learner workbooks, giving in-house trainers all the resources they need to deliver an engaging training programme to staff and volunteers across their organisation.

How do we guarantee quality?

Our aim is to ensure that all workers across health and social care organisations are armed with the most up-to-date essential knowledge and skills through high quality training and that employer investment in training represents real value for money.

That’s why we require all our training and learning providers to achieve the Skills for Health Quality Mark. This helps employers identify those learning providers who meet the needs of the health sector and will deliver high quality educational experiences for their employees. Adherence to the Skills for Health Quality Mark, together with the employer leadership that fundamentally underpins the Excellence Centre model, gives confidence that NSA Health recognised training develops the skills and knowledge needed to deliver high quality care.

City Health Care Partnership Community Interest Company were awarded the Skills for Health Quality Mark in October 2016. Jane Wilson, lead practitioner in Learning and Development, said, “While it was a rigorous and thorough process, we enjoyed taking part and were offered guidance at each stage. The assessor really put staff at ease during the interviews and training observations. We were of course delighted with the outcome and are proud to be able to demonstrate the high standards and quality of our work so clearly.”

Through the Quality Mark we know that support workers will remain up to date in terms of their knowledge, skill set and competency creating a transferable workforce that is employable across the country.

What’s next?

We know that Excellence Centres are making a difference to the way employers and the support workforce upskill. Our plans going forward are to continue to nurture the collaborative and innovative nature of the network to benefit both employers and employees, while expanding the network in response to demand from the sector.

In 2017 we have plans to grow our Excellence Centre network and continue to develop new face-to-face and e-learning programmes through our National Advisory Board. The new programmes will be based on demand from the regional areas prioritising developments to fill any gaps in the market. We will also focus on supporting high quality apprenticeship provision.

Overall, we will continue to be innovative, responsive and flexible in the development of workforce skills to support sustainable transformation of our healthcare services. Hybrid services, new innovations and the benefits of sharing expertise and skills across different public services are all likely to come to the fore in 2017, not least in relation to mental health, public health and wider community based developments.

If you are an employer and want to get involved in your local Excellence Centre and help identify training needs or access quality training for your staff, please get in touch. We would also love to hear from you if there isn’t an NSAH Excellence Centre near you, but you and the healthcare organisations you work with locally might be interested in establishing one.  Contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 020 7391 7173.

To find out more information on an Excellence Centre near to you click here.