NHS Health Education England (HEE) is a system-wide organisation, delivering undergraduate and post-graduate clinical workforce training and development for the NHS across England. HEE has £4.5 billion spend annually, 36 offices across England, and around 300 project delivery personnel (out of 2500 members of staff in total). 

Jo Stanford is Head of Corporate Portfolio Office for HEE. HEE’s current Corporate Portfolio (excluding regionally and locally delivered programmes) includes 113 programmes and projects, with a total budget of £163 million annually. In addition to this role, Jo leads a programme of work to deliver the project profession for the NHS. This involves working with heads of profession in national and regional organisations to develop a profession infrastructure within the NHS system. 

Typical projects carried out by HEE include digital and IT transformation, service improvement and transformation, specialist clinical training, and genomics education, which Health Education England is currently working on collaboratively with NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Public Health England. HEE also has an ongoing portfolio of change – this includes reform programmes, and clinical education and training that needs to be refreshed on an ongoing, and iterative basis.

Jo believes that project management in the health sector differs substantially from sectors traditionally associated with project management approaches – such as construction – in that health sector projects are primarily focused on delivering intangible outcomes and aren’t commercially driven. These can include delivering training, building capacity, and embedding change. As a result, project managers in the healthcare sector need to be skilled in dealing with ambiguity and complexity. Change management capacity is also a key skill – there is a strong need to implement change more effectively, and continue embedding change until it becomes the new norm. 

Key challenges for project managers in the public health sphere include both external influences and internal operational and infrastructure issues, both of which add complexity. For example, the healthcare sector is heavily influenced by political developments – timescales for projects in the healthcare sector are aligned with ministerial terms, rather than the health sector’s needs and programme requirements. Furthermore, old hospital facilities and IT systems can make it challenging to deliver projects and embed consistent change and efficiency outcomes.

Despite these challenges, Jo is optimistic about the role of project management in the healthcare sector going forward. The sector is increasingly embedding project management approaches, with project management roles within the NHS estimated to have doubled over the last six years. In addition, Jo feels that the project profession is in an opportunity period, moving from its traditional focus on construction and IT towards people-focused project management. She regards this as “a really fascinating period to be involved in the evolution of the project profession".

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