Development of a workforce plan for Speech and Language Therapy services for patients with Head and Neck Cancer across Cheshire and Merseyside

8th July 2024
Nurse checking patient by looking closely at face

Treatments for head and neck cancers (HNC) commonly affect a person’s ability to speak, use their voice, swallow, smell and breathe, significantly affecting quality of life. Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) are core members of the head and neck cancer multidisciplinary team (MDT) and provide a highly specialist service to improve health outcomes.

Between June and November 2023, we developed an integrated workforce plan for SLT services for HNC patients across Cheshire and Merseyside. An integrated approach to workforce planning supports a ‘one workforce’ approach and helps develop a workforce that connects across all parts of the system to deliver high quality person-centred care to their local populations.

The Challenge

The HNC SLT services in Cheshire and Merseyside have experienced challenges with recruitment and retention of the workforce needed to provide high quality services and to meet demand. There is variation across Cheshire and Merseyside in the way that the workforce is organised and how the service is delivered. 

The Cheshire and Merseyside Workforce Programme needed to establish a baseline of the HNC SLT workforce and develop a plan for the future workforce. Our first priority was to understand the current state of the workforce and the changes needed to overcome the challenges. We then used this understanding to develop an integrated workforce plan with the aim of securing the long-term sustainability of the workforce, whilst still meeting the bespoke needs of each sub-ICB place.

Our Approach

The main aim of this project was to develop an integrated workforce plan that:

We organised this work around three distinct phases.

  1. The first phase focussed on analysing the current workforce and developing an accurate workforce baseline. In parallel we developed our understanding of future population demand to build an accurate picture of how this could influence current and future workforce capacity.
  2. During the second phase, we held engagement sessions and conducted research. The focus was to assess current and future workforce challenges and identify the future skills and knowledge required to future-proof the service.
  3. Using the outputs from phases 1 & 2, we were able to develop a series of options for the workforce plan. We developed and evaluated these options via a thorough processof engagement and feasibility testing.

The Outcome

We produced a comprehensive workforce options planning report which brought together outputs from the 3 phases. Our report included sequencing of options to increase SLT capacity and capability within HNC, improve resilience in the service and streamline the services across the system. The Service Improvement and Transformation Lead for the Specialist Speech and Language Therapies for Head and Neck Cancer told us that “the planning report will be of huge benefit to the project and central to how we plan and design the new workforce model.” The report is now with stakeholders to collaboratively take forward for implementation.