Promoting partnership working in the NHS

About SPF

The national Social Partnership Forum (SPF) brings together NHS Employers, NHS Trade Unions, Health Education England (HEE) and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to discuss and debate the development and implementation of the workforce implications of policy.

The primary aims of the national SPF are to:

  • contribute staff side and employer perspectives to emerging policy at a formative stage
  • improve policy development and implementation by feeding in ideas on workforce implications
  • promote good practice in relation to partnership working and effective communication between partners.

Another key aim of the SPF is to encourage employers and trade unions to work together to ensure a positive working environment, in which staff can provide high quality care and services. To facilitate this approach, the national SPF signposts useful tools and resources to promote and support partnership working in the NHS on the How we do partnership web page. Case studies are also developed by partners and published on the SPF website, to evidence positive outcomes achieved through partnership working and to share learning. Employers and trade unions working together also helps to ensure staff are actively engaged, supported and consulted in issues impacting on their workplace/organisation. There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate that effective staff engagement is essential in creating a positive culture of safe, compassionate care and is strongly linked to improving patient outcomes and organisational performance. 

Read more about the SPF, and our key achievements over the last year, in this infographic.

SPF does not discuss the contractual arrangements for NHS staff as this is carried out in the NHS Staff Council which has overall responsibility for the Agenda for Change pay system. 

In a communication to regional SPFs, sent July 2019, the national SPF set out its priority areas. These are:

System Transformation

  • NHS Long Term Plan / People Plan

Support integrated care through continuing to ‘de-risk’ system change and to remove potential obstacles to staff providing system-based health and care - where organisations are working together to provide patient focused services. This is in line with the target in the LTP for integrated care systems (ICS) to cover the whole country by 2021.

SPF is acting as a critical friend to NHS England/Improvement (NHSE/I) in relation to the People Plan workstream on the new operating model for workforce.

Service delivery

  • Staff supply

As partners in the SPF, act as a critical friend to NHSE/I in further developing and implementing key policy initiatives in the interim People Plan relating to improving the recruitment and retention of current and future NHS staff.

Support the NHSE/I and HEE led collaborative approach to the apprenticeship levy in the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs)/ICSs, so they can maximise use of the levy.

  • Enabling productive working

Continue to engage in the NHS workforce productivity programme and seek to ensure the necessary information and support is provided to staff whose jobs are affected by the programme.

Contribute to plans to deliver the Topol Review recommendations, to support, prepare and upskill the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future of the NHS and release time to care.

NHS culture and staff experience – contributing to the ambition in the Interim People Plan to make the NHS the best place to work

  • Staff offer

Work in partnership with NHSE/I on a new ‘offer’ for staff and encourage and support employer and trade union engagement nationally, regionally and locally in the development of the ‘offer’.

  • Creating a culture of civility, compassion and respect in the NHS

The SPF call to action – promoting positive cultures: tackling bullying, highlighting good practice and encouraging a social partnership approach to improving workplace cultures, linking with partner initiatives.

Work in partnership with NHSE/I to further develop a tackling violence strategy (announced by Secretary of State for Health and Care in October 2018), and support activity in organisations, health systems and regional SPFs aimed at reducing violence against NHS staff.

The SPF will support activities to embed effective disciplinary processes and procedures across the NHS.

  • NHS leadership

Input into the interim People Plan work to improve leadership culture in the NHS, promoting the benefits of good line management and establishing the cultural values and leadership behaviours expected in the NHS. The SPF will also advise on the support and development NHS leaders should be offered to help them meet these values and behaviours.

National SPF action log

The work the national SPF is undertaking under its priority areas is recorded in the national action log, which is updated approximately every three months.

The SPF website priority areas includes information and resources on:

The SPF has an infographic which sets out its structure.

The national SPF includes the Wider Group, Strategic Group, Workforce Issues Group and links with the regional SPFs through the National Regional Group.

SPF partnership agreement

An updated partnership agreement was published in July 2016 to reflect the healthcare system established as a result of Health and Social Care Act 2012. This agreement formally brought NHS England, Health Education England and NHS Improvement into the SPF alongside the historic partners - the Department of Health, NHS Employers and NHS Trade Unions. 

The updated partnership agreement sets out the framework through which the partners commit to work collectively to tackle the healthcare priorities and challenges. 

The agreement was signed by Ben Gummer, the then SPF Ministerial chair, Simon Stevens, Ian Cumming, Jim Mackey, Charlie Massey, Danny Mortimer, NHS Employers SPF chair, and the then NHS Staff Side chair Christina McAnea (UNISON), with a foreword by the Secretary of State for Health. 

SPF members’ Handbook

The Handbook was drafted for new members of the national SPF to explain the purpose of the SPF, the role of partners and how a member of the forum, can get involved to support it achieve its aims. The Handbook also provides practical information on the SPF's detailed working arrangements and the membership of the SPF Strategic Group and Wider Group.

The SPF Wider Group currently meets every two months. It is chaired by a Minister of State for Care. 

Items may be placed on the agenda by any of the parties. Secretariat arrangements are led by the Department of Health and Social Care, who liaise with key contacts from NHS Trade Unions, NHS Employers, HEE, NHS England and NHS Improvement. All partners are encouraged to use the forum to showcase effective partnership working in line with its aims. 

The SPF chairs manage business and maintain proper conduct of meetings and are responsible for ensuring that individual members uphold the partnership principles and the co-operative spirit of the forum. 

To help facilitate effective working the partners agree to the following:

  • every effort will be made to provide information in good time for discussion and/or consultation
  • all parties will undertake to provide a considered, co-ordinated and timely response to issues on which their views are sought/on which they are consulted
  • all parties to respect confidentiality where it is required or requested, and otherwise to conduct their dialogue openly. 

Key communications from the Wider Group meetings are agreed by all partners and published on the SPF website.

For more information see the SPF Wider Group’s terms of reference

The Strategic Group is co-chaired by NHS Employers and NHS staff side. The group, which meets every two months, is a streamlined forum in which robust Chatham House debates can take place between partners on policy with workforce implications. The Strategic Group is supported by the SPF secretariat and the group provides regular updates to the SPF Wider Group meetings through a standing item on the agenda. 

For more information see the SPF Strategic Group’s terms of reference

The SPF has a dialogue with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), to enable social partners to inform and support the work of the CQC where it impacts on the workforce. This dialogue was previously in separate meetings but now takes place, where possible, in the Strategic Group meetings.

Action notes and slides from previous meetings between the SPF and CQC are listed below.

Creating positive cultures - November 2017

November 2017

September 2016

February 2016

April 2015

Presentations from national SPF meetings

NHS people plan update - SPF Strategic Group - September 2019

HPMA winner presentation - SPF Wider Group – July 2019

Violence Reduction - SPF Wider Group - July 2019

NHS People Plan - SPF Wider Group - July 2019

Cheshire and Merseyside SPF - SPF Wider Group - March 2019

NHS People Plan update - SPF Strategic Group - November 2018

Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) - SPF Strategic Group - November 2018 

National SPF priorities letter to regional SPFs - SPF Strategic Group - November 2017