Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Learning in partnership - The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn NHS Foundation Trust

The organisation

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is an established 488 bed general hospital, which provides healthcare services, including specialist, acute, obstetrics and community-based care, to West and North Norfolk in addition to parts of Breckland, Cambridgeshire and South Lincolnshire. This covers an area of more than 750 square miles, providing services for approximately 331,000 people.

The trust has inspired many of their staff to participate in learning opportunities following the signing of a Lifelong Learning Partnership Agreement in November 2013. The agreement was developed and signed by the trust and UNISON, along with other unions representing trust staff, and is included within the Trust’s Recognition Agreement.

The challenge

A need for staff engagement was identified by outside assessors, with issues of concern being raised by both the trust and employees. The challenge was to encourage staff to build positive relationships with their colleagues and build confidence by developing skills and knowledge that would benefit them both inside and outside of work. However, with limited space and finances to fund the project, it was initially unclear if it would be possible to develop the initiative beyond an initial idea.

The aim

The primary aim of the project was to make learning opportunities readily accessible for staff from all levels of the workforce. Benefits anticipated were to increase team work, develop new skills/knowledge, networking, and socialising, leading to improved morale and ultimately improved patient care. Providing opportunities for staff to improve English, maths and IT skills would also lead to increased professional development opportunities, broadening the range of roles to which employees could progress to within the trust.

The process

The trust and trade unions met to share thoughts and views on the challenge of engaging staff. It was agreed that learning could be utilised as a way of overcoming perceived barriers, and thelifelong learning agreement was developed and signed by the employer and trade unions. Both parties committed to working in partnership and agreed to commit time and resources. Trust wide promotion of the agreement was secured through collaboration with the trust’s communication department, and a dedicated intranet page was developed to be accessible by all partners. Methods used to raise awareness of the initiative included information sessions for managers and staff, a dedicated video presentation of classes and regular trust wide promotions. Organisational change, limited space and finance had to be juggled but finances were secured from branch funds and facility time negotiated with line managers

The lifelong learning agreement also made provision for, and led to the training of union learning representatives who now work with staff to identify and take forward their learning needs.


A strong partnership between the trust and trade union colleagues has optimised opportunities for staff to increase motivation, develop new skills and improve wellbeing. Twenty two people undertook the IT improvement course in 2016, which highlighted a need within the trust for further development. Further funding has now been established to support the continuation of the IT course, with the addition of maths and English classes becoming available to all staff, including apprentices. In December 2016, the initiative progressed even further; the Inspire Centre was officially opened by Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON alongside the trust’s chief executive. The centre provides a learning space for employees to engage with both lifelong learning and mandatory training, and also provides a meeting space for public UNISON membership. To date, a variety of learning opportunities have been offered to staff including dementia awareness, mental health awareness, pre-retirement seminars, Spanish lessons, yoga, pilates, sewing and dancing lessons.

The initiative has had a positive and wide-reaching impact and has received recognition nationally through UNISON and the Open University. Transference is demonstrated by the roll out of the initiative to other NHS organisations in the region. Learner stories and one-to-one discussions have provided positive feedback and signposted the need for the learning scheme to be expanded even further. This has contributed to the retention of staff, including international staff, and a motivated workforce who have developed skills and built positive working relationships. It has been evident that that there is a positive impact on those participating from a social, personal and work life balance perspective and the trust’s occupational health team are recommending staff members pursue one or more of the lifelong learning classes to enhance their wellbeing.

Top tips

  • Have a clear vision and set objectives.
  • Work in partnership with trade union colleagues and others.
  • Seek engagement of the whole organisation.
  • Continuously monitor and review to build on success.
  • Engage and develop additional learning reps.
  • Gain support from all levels of staff.


The initiative won the trust a finalist place in the 2017 SPF sponsored HPMA Partnership Award. You can hear the team along with the other finalists talking about their winning projects and the challenges they faced and resolved by listening to their interviews in our podcast below.


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Further information:

Darren Barber, UNISON,