It’s clear that the health and social care workforce is under pressure, as growing demand on services leads them to ask more of staff than ever before. Both the Health Secretary and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens have recognised the impact this has on health and wellbeing, and have promised action. The NHS is also facing significant recruitment and skills issues, as we highlighted in our Rising pressure report last year.

The health care workforce challenge

We know that meeting the challenges facing health and social care systems requires different and better ways of working. That could mean multi-disciplinary teams solving problems together, or new ways of involving non-clinical staff, volunteers and patients in the delivery of care. Technology can also play an important role, relieving pressures on staff and allowing them to make the best use of their time.

Of course, making this happen in practice isn’t easy. The health and social care workforce is uniquely complex and diverse, and in recent years a combination of limited funding, high staff turnover and under-training has only added to that complexity. That’s why, in launching the latest round of our Innovating for Improvement funding programme, we’re focusing on the people at the very heart of our health care system – the staff and volunteers who work in or alongside it.

Learning from projects we’ve supported

Innovating for Improvement has supported 119 projects across the UK to test bold new approaches to deliver better care, and helped build capacity in the teams behind them. One of the reasons we wanted to focus on workforce this time round is that we’ve seen several projects tackle these issues in the past with promising results.

For example, in a previous round of Innovating for Improvement, we funded Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust to take a new approach to improving the health and wellbeing of patients and staff. Their Integrated Health programme introduced a range of psychological interventions that gave patients and NHS staff the tools they needed to respond to a variety of problems, including occupational stress. The results were impressive, showing significant increases in wellbeing and reduced distress – with the strongest improvements among staff.

We’ve also seen projects that developed capability within the wider workforce to improve care and relieve pressure on the NHS. Another Innovating for Improvement project from the Scottish Ambulance Service worked with fire and rescue teams to help them respond better to cardiac emergencies in remote communities. The initiative resulted in both quicker response times and an increase in the number of responders across the pilot areas.

How you can apply for funding

If these examples spark ideas for how your organisation could improve the quality of health and social care, you should consider applying for round 7 of Innovating for Improvement. As with previous rounds, we’re interested in projects that take a genuinely innovative approach – this can relate to workforce issues, but could equally address other priorities.

We are planning to award up to 23 grants of up to £75,000 for projects that can deliver impact within 15 months. As well as supporting a specific project, the funding is designed to build the capacity of front-line teams to deliver improvement work, and we offer a range of support – including networking opportunities, coaching and input from subject experts – to help successful applicants along the way.

You can find out more about the programme, including criteria and the application process, in the Call for applications. We’ve created an online tool that will help you check if your proposed idea is eligible for funding, and our website has information and learning from previous projects that we’ve supported.

The closing date for applications is midday on Monday 9 July. We’re excited to see your ideas to improve health care and support the people who deliver it. We hope the projects we fund will demonstrate how our health care workforce can respond to the many challenges yet to come.

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Sam Thomas (@iamsamthomas) is Programme Manager at the Health Foundation and leads Innovating for Improvement. To find out more about the programme, email Innovating.enquiries@health.org.uk.

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