The Government stood accused of abandoning its commitment to lifelong learning for National Health Service staff this week as a strategy for the body to replace the NHS University was leaked amid rumours of widespread redundancies.
When the NHSU was launched as a Labour manifesto commitment in 2001, it promised access to education for all NHS staff from "cleaners to consultants". But the leaked staff briefing paper that set out the vision and strategy for the NHS Institute for Learning and Skills Innovation - the successor body to the NHSU - says little about education and does not mention widening participation.
"This blueprint for the new institute is a slap in the face for lifelong learning and will be a huge disappointment for NHS employees, who had been promised so much by new Labour," said Andy Pike, national official for higher education at lecturers' union Natfhe.
Unison, the public sector union that has strongly supported the NHSU's efforts to widen participation, pinned its hopes on the fact Bob Fryer, former NHSU chief executive, will become the NHS's national director for widening participation in learning.
Steve Williams, the head of Unison's Open College, said: "We are working to ensure that the widening participation agenda is taken forward in some way."
Catherine Hastings, NHSU communications director, said: "There does not appear to be a huge amount of education and learning in the document, but dialogue is continuing."
On the issue of redundancies, Ms Hastings said: "We are managing expectations down. Given the small budget of the institute, it is unlikely that there will be a huge amount of posts."
The leaked paper says that the hallmark of the new institute will be "excellence, leanness and pace" in ensuring that "worldwide best practice in learning and leadership" is available to the NHS.
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