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Learning Centres

A key component of the NHS Learning Network

In Issue 1 of ImpAct, Jennifer Dixon described the overall plans for the development of the NHS Learning Network. This report is about the role played by the proposed learning centres in the Network.

Aims of Learning Centres

The aim is to promote three types of centres to complement existing learning activity and encourage the sharing of learning and good practice across the NHS. This recognises that while most learning in the NHS takes place on the job, there is an important place for learning away from the work place. Such learning may take place in other parts of the NHS or in educational settings. Both of these provide valuable opportunities for reflection and the sharing of experiences of others working in similar fields or on similar types of problems.

Types of Learning Centres

Specialist learning centres are known as 'specialist' because they have undertaken a significant management intervention that has shown to benefit patients. Such centres will already have a track record in sharing that learning across the NHS, possibly through links with a higher education centre.
Learning partnerships which connect organisations either locally or regionally to tackle a shared priority for service improvement. These partnerships may be sustained through a resource centre.
Beacons - which are recognised examples of good practice that are making a real difference to patient care. Beacons will be chosen in declared priority areas and be supported to share their learning with others. Information about them will be included in the SDP database (part of the Supporting Intelligence base of the Learning Network).


The first learning centres are being identified in two ways. First, by inviting applications direct from the NHS for some types - for example some types of beacons. Second, through a process being adopted by the NHS centrally and through regional offices to identify potential centres.

The intention is not to promote 'one model' but rather to promote discussion about the most suitable blend that will support local learning. The current emphasis is focussing on NHS organisations that are already acting as specialist learning centres or meet the beacon criteria. The NHS executive has been encouraged by the growing interest in the concept of learning centres.


Centres that have been identified so far are:

Specialist Learning Centres

Centre for Best Practice in Leicester Royal Infirmary NHS Trust. Contact - Ron Cullen Tel 0116 258 6642; Email

South Tees Acute Hospital NHS Trust, Middlesbrough. Contact - Peter Smith, Tel 01642 854805

Centre for Advanced Interprofessional Development
at Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust. Contact - Henry Stahr Tel 0161 787 4212; Email:

Learning Partnerships

Buckinghamshire Partnership, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury: Contact: Sarah Fraser: Tel 01296 315108; Email


About 300 Beacon services in primary care, waiting lists and times, mental health and health improvement were announced in May 1999. Information about Beacons is available from:

Paul Atkinson, NHS Executive Tel: 01132 545311
Nigel Zamen, NHS Executive Tel: 01132 546320

Both Paul and Nigel are based in PC-WIT at Quarry House, Leeds LS2 7UE.

Learning Centres - an example

To illustrate the sort of support which the specialist learning centres will provide it might be useful to describe briefly the programme offered by the Centre for Advanced Inter-Professional Development at Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust. Their programme builds on their work on the European Foundation for Quality Management model.

This Centre is a joint venture funded by the University of Salford (Continuing Education Unit and Management School) and the Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust. It aims to support shared learning by building bridges between professions and organisation. It brings together academic research and practical experience in such a way that new practices are based on research and new research is tested in practice.

The Centre has an extensive programme that includes:

The approach of the Centre is to create a framework and culture of critical self-assessment as the springboard for actions which improve practice and which are shared through a system of Quality Awards. So far over 150 awards have been granted. These include awards for a joint assessment and discharge system which was commended by the Audit Commission, a dedicated hernia service reduced average length of stay from 3.6 days to 1 day, a surgical spinal service triage system reduced waiting time for initial consultation from 2.5 years to 3 weeks.

Plans are being made to ensure that all staff in the NHS are kept up to date with the development of learning centres. ImpAct will continue to contribute.


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