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Taking our discipline and profession into the future

02 February 2018 | by Nicola Gale

This month has seen colleagues in various parts of the Society actively thinking about and sharing ideas and perspectives on the future of our discipline and profession.

Part of this has been in relation to workforce planning, which is an important area of work for our Society in 2018. The focus is horizon scanning and looking outwards to 2035 at what the needs will be for our profession and what this might mean in terms of the shape and composition of the workforce and therefore of training.

Two Horizon Scanning workshops have been held, arranged by the Society's Policy Advisor for Professional Practice Hannah Farndon, and facilitated by Catherine Dooley who is the Chair of our Workforce planning committee, a committee which is under the auspices of our Professional Practice Board. The definition of horizon scanning that the team has used is “The systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely developments including, but not restricted to, those at the margins of current thinking and planning”, from the Chief Scientific Advisor’s Committee Office of Science and Technology, 2004. 

Driving forces identified include technological (service users’ self-management with improved technology, development of computer and social media based interventions); economic (the NHS drive for efficiency and demand for improved access to treatment); environmental (changing demographic patterns and trends in population); political (Brexit, funding issues, and increased demand for evidence-based practice); and social (the future of psychology as an educational choice, general interest and understanding of psychology, social priorities, such as older people and mental health of young people). 

The actions to follow might therefore, for example, be a shift to public health and preventative work; taking advantage of developments in alternative delivery methods for psychology (technology, skills mix, skills transmission); and an enhanced role for our Society in developing and quality assuring this workforce.  Thinking will be needed on how the driving forces might influence the requirements of the workforce, and how this workforce should be orientated, funded and organised. 

In the workshop I attended there was a lot of interest in community work, not simply working in community settings, but working collaboratively with communities to identify and then co-produce solutions to the health and social problems they face.  We talked about the extent to which our workforce could draw together coherently, communicate, and make best use of our skills and expertise in this area, and build capacity and refocus professional effort on this work. 

The second part of the workshops involved exploring some intentionally challenging scenarios for the psychology workforce, looking ahead to 2035. These were designed to represent a plausible range of ways the future could unfold, which were then be used to think about the ways psychology and psychologists may be impacted in the future.

This work links up with various external initiatives which are considering how the workforce can be shaped to meet the needs of society, especially in healthcare and the NHS. The Society responded to the House of Lords House of Lords Select Committee consultation on The Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS and Adult Social Care.  The Select Committee’s report cited an endemic culture of short-termism in workforce planning, training and delivering the right skills mix to services and service users.  The Select Committee’s recommendations include taking a longer-term view to workforce planning and training; that HEE should take a 10-year rolling view to planning and take on the remit for Adult Social Care; upskilling current staff and ensure that they are operating at the upper end of their skill set; training new staff; tackling skills mismatch and ensuring an appropriate mix of skills within NHS and Adult Social Care workforce. 

Our Director of Qualifications and Standards Andrea Finkel-Gates is leading on our work on workforce planning and training, and in liaison with Health Education England (HEE).  She is our representative on the bi-monthly HEE Senior Mental Health Leaders Seminar: Developing the Long-term Mental Health Workforce Strategy. 

The group is chaired by Lord Willis of Knaresborough and is made up of representatives from professional bodies, the royal colleges, NHS trusts and charities working in the field of mental health.  The work is looking broadly at where we are now, where we need to be in 2021 and what we are doing to get there. This is done using experience and knowledge from within the group along with examples of best practice from around the UK and internationally. The considerations are wide ranging and include discussion of some of the external challenges which can affect both the public, patients/ service users and the workforce such as technology and economy.

Shaping the psychology workforce to fit future need is a concern which is shared with our European colleagues. I have just come back from a field trip to Norway, with our Director of Qualifications and Standards Andrea Finkel-Gates, looking at how education is linked to and adapted to the needs of the wider society in Norway. The field trip came about through our mutual membership of EFPA, the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations.  It was kindly hosted by the President and Secretary General (equivalent to our Chief Executive) of the Norsk psykologforening/Norwegian Psychological Association (NPF). Many of their colleagues in their association took part including their Head of Education, and other staff involved with education and communications.  We were joined by German colleagues who are also interested in learning from other countries’ approaches driven by legislative changes they face, so it was a very collaborative event. 

On a visit to the University of Oslo the academic leaders for psychology education shared with us the structure of their psychology education and training, and how they regularly review the curriculum to meet the needs that have been identified by the Government influenced by policy advice from the Norwegian Association. The model in Norway is in our terms quite similar to medical education, being a six-year run through training based on the Boulder scientist practitioner model, rather than the Bologna model of Bachelor's then Master's. It was very interesting to hear how quickly they can adapt their curriculum to meet social need and the demands on delivery.  Recently they have included modules on prevention, health promotion, and community focused work in their curriculum across the board for all psychologists.  This will equip them to deliver particularly in primary care, and Norway has just passed a law that every primary care facility must include a psychologist.  They have a five-year specialist training which follows the core training, which is also enshrined in legislation related to quality standards of healthcare provision in secondary care.  This training equips psychologists to take leadership positions statutorily on a par with other professionals.  We were told it has been of significant benefit in driving up the quality of services, in ensuring a psychosocial focus, and to the profession in Norway itself. 

January also saw the start of the conference season for the Society, and the future of the profession and the shape of the workforce were issues that featured here too. 

At the Clinical Psychology conference, which I was very pleased to be invited to attend, there were various sessions themed on the future of clinical psychology.  It was good to see real collaboration and co-production at the conference with experts by experience (service users).  Keynotes all tackled a similar theme, psychology taking a strategic approach and the range of influencing needed.  Speakers included Susan McDaniel former APA President who gave the international keynote on using psychological science and systemic approaches to solve healthcare problems; Jacqui Dyer expert by experience and community leader in healthcare talking about moving from surviving to thriving by working in partnership with communities and professionals and tackling unequal access to services and care; and psychotherapist Susie Orbach who delivered the public lecture challenging us to use what we know from our clinical work in public policy influencing. 

Clinical training leads Jan Hughes and Gary Latchford led delegates in a nominal group technique designed to elicit ideas on and gauge strength of support for new and extended roles for psychologists.  The results will be invaluable input to the position paper the Society will develop on the future of the workforce and training, later this Spring. 

The Occupational Psychology conference, again a great pleasure to be invited to participate in, also looked at the future of occupational psychology.  A horizon scanning session was hosted by Ian Bushnell in which I participated along with colleagues from outside the BPS including Terri Morrisey chief executive of the Psychological Society of Ireland, US academic and practitioner Elaine Pulakos (also a keynote), Nik Chmiel (UK academic and practitioner), Richard Heron (VP Health BP International) and practitioner Binna Kandola.  Underlying the points arising from the wide-ranging discussion was a recognition of the need to direct research efforts, knowledge and skills towards addressing complex needs, and prevention, and to promote the skills of psychologists in doing this work.  It is hoped a podcast of the session will be made available. 

The conference had a significant focus on psychology roles and careers, with sessions related to career choice, skill building, developments in practice, and achieving impact especially in policy influencing.  I was delighted, too, to present the occupational psychology recognition and achievement awards. 

Now is as good a time as any, it seems to me, for all of us to be thinking about what society needs from us, how we can contribute, and what that means in terms of how we organise the psychology workforce to deliver.  

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