Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Supporting system change

The SPF is supporting effective partnership working in system transformation 

Social partnership working supporting the establishment of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)

The ICS Transition Partnership Group (TPG), a subgroup of the national SPF, was established in April 2021, to enable partners to get involved in the organisational change arising from the establishment of statutory ICSs. The group includes representation from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS Employers, ICSs/clinical commissioning groups, commissioning support units and NHS trade unions. The aim of the group is to support staff during the organisational change, by minimising uncertainty and limiting employment changes, working to the principles of simple, local and evolution.  

Read the TPG’s terms of reference.

ICS Design Framework and guidance on the employment commitment

On 16 June 2021, NHSEI published the ICS Design Framework which sets out some of the main ways NHS leaders and organisations will operate with their partners in ICSs from April 2022. Published alongside the framework is guidance on the employment commitment. This document, which was developed in partnership through the ICS Transition Partnership Group of the national SPF, provides guidance on what the employment commitment is, its application in practice and how it affects people. To access the ICS Design Framework and guidance on the employment commitment, see NHSEI’s website.

FAQs on the ICS transition employment commitment

Answers to frequently asked questions on the Guidance on the employment commitment: Supporting the development and transition towards statutory Integrated Care Systems have been developed by members from NHS Clinical Commissioners HR and OD Network, NHSEI leads working on the ICS development programme and members of the Social Partnership Forum ICS transition partnership group. Read the FAQs

Process for selecting chair designates for ICBs

NHSEI have published a set of leadership competencies, roles and responsibilities, and desired values and behaviours, as a guide in selecting chairs designates for Integrated Care Board (ICBs). 

Read more on the NHSEI website.

System change - jargon buster

The SPF has produced a jargon buster guide on system change. This guide is aimed at staff working across the NHS and the wider health and care system, to assist them with understanding new terminology and system improvement plans. It was last updated in July 2021.

If there is anything you think should be added to the jargon buster, please tell us by emailing

Developing the NHS People Plan in partnership

Listen to our podcast, recorded at a SPF People Plan workshop, to hear Danny Mortimer (NHS Employers) in conversation with Sara Gorton (UNISON), Claire Sullivan (CSP) and Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe (Unite), on trade union involvement in the NHS People Plan.


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The NHS People Plan, which was published 30 July 2020, marks the next step on an ongoing process to grow, support and develop the NHS workforce.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI), and Health Education England (HEE), worked with the SPF to reflect on the lessons to be drawn from the pandemic and in the production of the People Plan. We are pleased they have reflected what employers and trade unions see as the (non-pay related) priorities for NHS staff. The SPF will continue to work with national, local and regional partners to ensure the NHS People Promise is delivered for staff.

The Plan includes a programme of new approaches to workforce management and support which will require effective local and national partnership to meaningfully deliver. In particular there is a commitment to launch a workplace civility toolkit by March 2021 and a violence reduction standard by December 2020. The Workforce Issues Group (WIG) and its violence reduction subgroup will continue to facilitate partner involvement in these policy areas. Reducing violence, bullying, harassment and abuse directed at NHS staff is a priority for the SPF and we will continue supporting employers and trade unions to put in place measures to protect their staff and build positive workplace cultures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that more must be done to ensure the NHS is equitable, fair and diverse. This is another priority area for the SPF and we will support initiatives aimed at ensuring recruitment processes are free from bias and achieving equal representation of staff at every level in NHS organisations. We look forward to engaging with the CQC on use of their ‘well led’ domain to monitor progress with this and other aspects of the plan.

The SPF was clear in its view that Plan must recognise the interdependence of the NHS and social care and we are pleased that our feedback has resulted in a narrative which gives more detail on how the NHS and social care can work together in Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) on workforce planning, utilising returning staff, recruitment and increasing resilience and capability. The SPF will continue to be involved in the development of system working policy at a national level and, through the WIG, partners will have oversight of initiatives aimed at cross organisation working.

The Plan aims to grow the workforce through maximising on the increased interest amongst the general population in pursuing a career in the NHS and through encouraging staff who returned to the NHS during the pandemic, back into the workforce. Improved staff retention is another way in which the Plan seeks to bolster workforce numbers. A larger workforce will help provide the time and capacity to allow many of the aspirations in the Plan to be progressed, such as staff training and development and more effective line management. In addition it will reduce pressure on staff, increase opportunities for flexible working and give them more time to strengthen their physical and mental wellbeing. The SPF will continue to engage with HEE, NHSEI and DHSC on growing the workforce so NHS and social care providers have the staff they need, now and in the years to come.

Download the We are the NHS: People Plan 2020/21 - action for us all from the NHSEI website.


The staff transfer guide is an online tool to support staff who are facing transfer to providers of NHS funded services in England.

The guide sets out the implications of the transfer on a staff member's pay, pension and terms and conditions and the employment standards staff have the right to expect wherever they undertake NHS funded work.

In May 2016, the national SPF wrote a letter to the leads of the STP footprints regarding partnership working and staff engagement in the STPs.

Guidance for social partnership working in developing and implementing new care models and system transformation was published in September 2016. The guidance builds on the letter from the SPF to STP leads and aims to support the development of partnership arrangements at cross organisational/new care model and regional level - to facilitate effective system change. 

Guidance that was developed in partnership to support the transition arising from the Health and Social Care Act 2012, has been republished and is now available on the SPF website. This contains useful good practice, which could be used in future transition exercises.