Trainees are offered the opportunity to attend one funded conference during their time on the grad scheme. There are a number to choose from, both stream-specific (e.g. CIPD HR conference, Health Informatics Congress) and more NHS-wide conferences. A popular choice among trainees is NHS Confederation’s annual health and social care conference and exhibition, known as Confed. This year, Confed 18 took place over two days last month in Manchester, and was the conference I chose to attend.
Once you have been on the scheme for 6 months, provided all is well with your performance and progress, you are then able to choose which conference you would like to attend and whether to do so in your first or final year. Many 2016 trainees attended Confed 17 while we were in our first year, but for myself there was a lot going on around that time, like sourcing a flexi and second year placement, busying myself with HR work to tick off competencies, and attempting two simultaneous distance learning qualifications. I also feel that as an HR trainee, my knowledge of the healthcare system grew more slowly than that of e.g. my GM or Policy & Strategy friends, whose roles tend to offer more of a holistic view from early on. All in all, it made sense for me to attend this year instead, and most of my HR colleagues opted for the same. What’s more, this year’s Confed happened to coincide with the NHS’s 70th anniversary year, something which you may have heard about in the media recently. This was an added bonus, as it shaped the theme of the conference and meant that some celebrations were included as part of the event.
There was plenty on offer for us over the two days. The conference opened with a welcome video from Prince Charles. The main stage had speakers throughout the day and the arena was open continuously, with different zones to walk around, breakout sessions and smaller talks, interactive activities, and stalls from all kinds of organisations, from private firms to charities. This format provided lots of opportunity for networking and discussion (plus ample freebies). There was even a Confed app, where you could look up what was going on in the different zones, vote in live polls during talks, and make a little profile about yourself and look at profiles of other people at the conference. The conference was attended by a mix of GMTS trainees from different streams, regions and both current intakes, which was a chance to meet some new trainees, and catch up with old ones.
This year’s Confed was themed ‘Celebrating the past, shaping the future’ and had a particular focus on NHS70, reform and, fortunately for HR trainees, workforce. We heard about how the workforce and ways of working will change with new technology and flexibility, and the shortfalls in staffing that are contributing to pressures across the system, particularly as the population ages and people’s health needs change. The trajectories were quite alarming and one of the most surprising facts I learned was that 17,000 applications to nursing courses were rejected last year. Given the shortage of nurses at a national level this is quite a staggering figure, and brought home what needs to be done around some of our workforce challenges. Other sessions I attended were on uses of artificial intelligence in healthcare, the impacts of Brexit, and a workshop on using OD techniques to navigate change. Watching John Humphrys from Mastermind chair a debate is not something you’d experience on a typical day in the office! The grads were also invited to a private Q&A session with Simon Stevens and Ian Cumming, whom those of you who are familiar with the NHS (or have been doing your research) will know as the chief executives of NHS England and Health Education England respectively. This was a chance for trainees to put forward their questions to the two leaders directly, and hear about their career journeys, which was useful as they are NHS grad scheme alumni themselves. The session was chaired by a fellow trainee, providing a further great development opportunity. Confed 18 ended with a keynote speech by health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt, and an ‘NHS 7Tea’ party to mark the anniversary of the NHS.
On the packed train home, weighed down by various booklets/leaflets/drinks bottles/stress balls/enough pens to see me through the next few years, I chatted to a fellow trainee. We reflected on our experiences at the conference and shared learning from the talks we had each been to. Overall, being able to attend a conference is a valuable opportunity provided by the scheme, and is something to look forward to if you are joining the scheme in 2018, or perhaps in a future intake.
As ever, if you have any questions, or want to learn more about life on the grad scheme, you can find me on Twitter @faye_nhs