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Policy Research Programme Policy Research Unit - Health and Social Care Workforce


Published: 09 August 2022

Version: 1.0 - August 2022

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Area of Research:  Health and Social Care Workforce

Section 1: Summary of main strands/themes for research 

The Health and Social Care Workforce Policy Research Unit will support the development and evaluation of workforce policy across health and social care. We require research that provides evidence to inform policy decisions to know ‘what works’ to ensure a skilled, trained, motivated workforce with high wellbeing, providing effective health and care.  

Among the diversity of professions and roles across health and adult social care there are similarities in the research required to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of workforce policy for individual workforces. This creates a broad agenda for research, including:

  • factors influencing recruitment and retention of the workforce, including those relating to employers; 
  • wider labour market trends and their impact on labour markets for health and social care staff;
  • morale, mental wellbeing, burnout and quality of working life; 
  • staff mix, skill mix, and new ways of working, new roles in health and social care;
  • relationship between workforce inputs, and outcomes for the workforce and for patients and service users;
  • human capital, skills and training;
  • international workforce recruitment, international partnership and ethical recruitment;
  • ethnicity, inequalities, discrimination and barriers at work;
  • motivation, organisation, team-working and leadership;
  • effectiveness of interventions; and
  • impact of regulations.

Section 2: Details of policy context and background 

This PRU covers significant sectors of the nation’s economy, with 10 percent of the national workforce employed in health and social care. The NHS is the biggest single employer in Europe and the world’s largest employer of highly skilled professionals, with 1.5 million people across the health service in England. Similarly, the adult social care system in England employs over 1.65m individuals across around 18,000 organisations and 70,000 care users who employ their carers directly. 

Over the past decade there has been significant growth in workforce supply, but this has not kept pace with faster growing needs, nor with the changing requirements of patients, service users and carers. In social care particularly we have seen high staff turnover.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to tackle pressures around funding, staffing, inequalities, and pressures from a growing and ageing population. To deliver the Long Term Plan, the NHS needs more staff, working in rewarding jobs, and a more supportive culture to help retain people with the skills and expertise to provide the care that patients need. 

Progress is being made, for example with the 50,000 Nurses Programme and the expansion of medical training places, but there are opportunities to make further improvements. We need to continue to grow the workforce, and to make changes to ensure that people in the workforce are well-supported and productive, to meet the needs of patients.

Adult social care is similarly exposed to pressures from an ageing population. The White Paper People at the Heart of Care sets out a ten-year vision for the adult social care workforce. This includes commitments to invest at least £500m over the next three years in knowledge, skills, health and wellbeing, and recruitment policies. The aim is to improve social care as a long-term career choice across the breadth of the workforce, with new universal career structures and training opportunities which will enable people to progress and realise their potential within social care. There will be work with commissioners and providers to ensure care workers are paid for all the hours they work, and to improve the terms and conditions of the workforce (including the incidence of zero hours contracts), to help ensure a sustainable future supply of care staff.

Section 3: Justification for research topics

The PRU should help inform the development of workforce policies and their implementation across health and social care, and to provide formative and summative evaluation of outcomes for the workforce, and where appropriate, for patients, service users and carers. 

To address the breadth of the agenda, applicants will be expected to have access to a range of disciplinary expertise, with strengths needed in the following areas: 

  • labour economics;
  • management, organisation studies and human resource management;
  • social work and social policy; and
  • occupational and organisational psychology. 

The team should demonstrate multi-disciplinary expertise, including the capacity for secondary analysis of data, modelling, primary data collection (including surveys), economic analysis, evaluation and systematic reviews. Access to expertise and learning from other non-health and care sectors could also be advantageous. 

Section 4:  Other related research activity of which the unit will need to be aware 

Given the range of potential research issues which extend across health and social care, this PRU will work closely with others to ensure alignment and complementarity of research programmes, and to make best use of expertise.  

The PRU will help inform the strategies and work programmes of our relevant delivery partners and Arm’s Length Bodies, which include Health Education England and NHS England and Improvement. This will help ensure mutual awareness of relevant research and analysis plans, and to share learning both in terms of findings and methodologies. 

The PRU will also be expected to develop links with research commissioned through other National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) research programmes such as the Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) Programme, with relevance to workforce issues. Third-sector organisations conduct research relevant to the health and care workforce and the PRU is similarly expected to be aware of this.