Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Partnership working across North West England

About the area

The North West of England (NW) covers a significant area with a population of 7.1 million. The NHS workforce in the NW totals 157,719 working within 52 organisations.


The Health and Social Care Act 2012, brought about the most significant change in the operation of the NHS since its inception. No one organisation had a regional system leadership role such as had been held by the strategic health authorities and there was a risk that the strong networks and constructive ways of working in the regions could be lost. To prevent this, NHS Employers was commissioned to ensure the maintenance and development of sustainable regional social partnership working across the country.

In the NW, NHS Employers' new North Engagement Team facilitated discussions with key stakeholders including HR directors, Health Education North West and the Regional Staff Side Chair. Agreement was reached that a new model of social partnership was now necessary, built on strong relationships with existing partners and the new NHS organisations, which allowed for candid and confidential discussions at the outset of strategy development.

This was a particular priority for clinical commissioning groups and NHS England area teams, as well as provider trusts, as there were ongoing programmes of transformational change taking place in some of the larger NW health economies which required discussion, debate and involvement of key stakeholders in the development and implementation of the workforce implications of these emerging strategies.

Project delivery

A steering group was established to develop arrangements for a NW social partnership that would operate as a sub group of the North of England SPF. The steering group included the Managing Director of Health Education North West, Clinical Commissioning Group (Chief Accountable) Officer from NHS Vale Royal and NHS South Cheshire, the NW Staff Side Chair, HR director representation and was supported by NHS Employers’ North Engagement Team. The steering group agreed that the aims of the NW SPF Sub Group would be to contribute to improvements in healthcare and to join the new NHS system up and to provide a ‘Chatham House’ arena to facilitate these aims.

Given the size and complexity of the NHS within the North West, the SPF Sub Group alternates between meetings of a smaller core group for broader, strategic discussion and a rotational local health economy meeting which drills down into strategic developments affecting the workforce within that area and at which all employers and stakeholders are in attendance.

Project outputs

The following outputs were delivered in the first 12 months of the Sub Group’s operation:

  • New terms of reference setting out the rules of engagement and membership for the NW Sub Group developed and agreed and adopted.
  • Mechanisms in place to allow engagement and consultation with key stakeholders on the possible areas to discuss in partnership.
  • Members of the steering group act as ambassadors for partnership working in order to promote its benefits and to use their own networks to seek views of other stakeholders to secure support and involvement in the NW SPF Sub Group.
  • Development of evaluation arrangements – based on the behaviour audit tool adopted by the North SPF

Key Achievement

Local Health Economy meetings

A local health economy meeting, held February 2014, focused on the Cheshire Health Economy (see the key comms from the meeting for more detail). The meeting was led by the Chief (Accountable) Officer from NHS Vale Royal and NHS South Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Groups. 

All Cheshire Provider organisations were invited to attend and attendees included provider CEO, HR Director and Deputies, CSU representative, North West Employers Organisation (Local Government), Health Education North West representation, Regional Trade Union Officials, NHS Employers Engagement North Team Members. 

Chair provided a detailed presentation on the Integrated Pioneer Programme, linking health and social care in Cheshire. This covered the rationale for the service integration strategy, the health improvement imperatives driving the programme, the governance arrangements, the challenges, and workforce implications. Staff side colleagues were able to share the consultative arrangements that have been established in respect of the Greater Manchester Healthier Together Service Transformation Strategy and to formally request that similar arrangements are agreed within Cheshire to support this programme of change. A continued commitment to partnership working was agreed.

Provider organisations updated on their current issues including financial challenges, progress against NHS TDA milestones, workforce reorganisation activities and shared examples of best practice partnership working.

Health Education North West were able to provide an update on current issues and a briefing was provided by NHS Employers.

Top tips

  • System fragmentation was overcome through a stakeholder mapping exercise.
  • Communication and engagement are essential to ensure participation in the Sub Group. This required investment of time to undertake briefings, including engagement meetings, and to set out the benefits of partnership working and to ensure stakeholders are able to contribute to meetings at an appropriate level.
  • Logistical arrangements for the meetings require close attention to ensure representation is relevant and appropriate to the meetings, particularly the local health economy meetings.

Further information and contact information

See the North West SPF web page 

Paul Foley – Unison, Head of Health and NW SPF Sub Group Staff Side Chair:

Jane Raven – Deputy Head of Engagement – North:

See also...