It’s become rare for a day to pass without a story about the NHS appearing in the news.

And, among the most regularly occurring subjects is the shortage of trained staff – which continues to increase.

In its latest quarterly report, NHS Improvement said the number of vacancies across the NHS in England has hit a record high.

In June, the NHS was short of 41,722 nurses – 11.8% of the entire nursing workforce – which is an increase of 5,928 in just three months. What’s more, the regulator warned that vacancies would become even tougher to fill over the next year due to Brexit and an aging population.

At Weston College, our work with the NHS and small-medium employers in the healthcare sector reveals the problem at a regional level.

Combatting this skills shortage is the main objective of our new Health and Active Living Skills Centre, which is currently under construction.

Based at our Loxton Campus, and due to be completed in spring 2019, the flagship training facility will bring together our health and social care, sports therapy and active living curricula into one bespoke facility. It will allow us to develop our curriculum in this sector to bridge existing and future skills gaps.

The curriculum will cover health and social care, counselling, adult health-related courses (e.g. substance misuse), health apprenticeships, sport, and sport and exercise science.

It’s facilities, including wet lab (where chemicals, drugs and other biological matter is tested), dry lab (for computer and computer-generated analysis) and six-bed simulation ward, are tailor-made to provide workplace skills, as will running external clinics, delivered with healthcare partners.

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The £13 million centre will enable young people and adults to gain the skills they need to enter a broad spectrum of healthcare professions, as well as allowing local and regional healthcare employers to develop the skills of existing staff.

It will also include a floodlit all-weather pitch, four-court multi-purpose sports hall and multi-gym.

The above investment has been made possible by the College match-funding a successful bid for funding from the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) through the Local Growth Fund, administered by the West of England Combined Authority.

While the local skills shortage is a key motivation behind the new facility, it will also address longer-term issues that affect our health service. By introducing a range of courses to encourage active lifestyle choices, including sport therapies and condition management, we aim to improve both the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the community.

This, in turn, will alleviate some pressures from the healthcare sector – particularly illnesses that can be prevented through exercise, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, which cost the NHS £750 million per year.

The centre’s location is also an important aspect of the project. The Loxton Campus site still has land available to develop additional facilities in the future and is situated close to Weston General Hospital - convenient for learners and a major employer.

Dr Paul Phillips, CBE, Principal & Chief Executive, Weston College

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