The new corporate university for the NHS, to be known as the NHSU, will have no central campus and will make extensive use of e-learning technology, according to plans published by the Department of Health.

A national network of Internet-linked local learning centres, with supporting information and communications technologies are envisaged. "Most courses offered will have an e-learning component, delivered across the Internet," says the NHSU development plan ‘Learning for Everyone’.

Health Informatics will feature heavily in the ‘launch portfolio’ of courses offered by the new university, which is scheduled to launch in October 2003. A dedicated health informatics faculty is planned within the university.

"We will design a range of programmes, with the NHS Information Authority, to support staff working in the NHS to manage information more effectively," says the consultation document. Work will initially focus on the European Computer Driving Licence, to offer staff training in basic core IT skills.

The proposals outlined in ‘Learning for Everyone’ say the aim to establish a university for the NHS – to make learning a right for everyone and to put learning at the heart of improved healthcare. The aim is for NHSU, working in partnership, to eventually become the ‘umbrella’ for all learning within the NHS.

The development plan promises that NHSU "will maximise the potential of e-learning within the NHS and the application of new technologies, working alongside our strategic partners the University for Industry, Learndirect, the Open University, Universities UK and other e-learning specialists and providers."

Access to the new University is promised to everyone working in or for the NHS. As part of this commitment access and equity the consultation document promises to tackle the digital divide: "We also commit ourselves to helping to tackle the so-called ‘digital divide’ in which some individuals and groups are unable to benefit from increased e-learning provision because they lack access to computers, have too little confidence or suffer from limited provision of opportunities."

The new corporate University is intended to provide practical learning for everyone at every level working for or with the health service from staff to patients, carers and volunteers.

Courses will focus on NHS policy priorities, including workforce shortages and implementation of National Service Frameworks.

NHSU will offer junior scholarships, intended to make the NHS more attractive to young people from socially excluded backgrounds; foundation degrees, for people already working in the NHS who do not possess a higher education qualification; and clinical fellowships, for junior and senior clinicians to support the development of innovative practice.

Professor Bob Fryer, Chief Executive of NHSU said: "NHSU will make learning available to everyone working for and with the NHS at every level, including those who may not have experienced education since leaving school. Our focus will be improving care for patients by providing learning that will be used to make a difference.

NHSU is planned to work closely with colleges of further education and universities which already provide vital education and training services to NHS; and will form strategic partnerships with organisations such as the Open University, Learndirect and the e-Universities initiative.

Learning for Everyone is open to consultation for the next three months, for details visit . Ideas, feedback and opinions gathered will contribute to the NHSU’s first Strategic Plan, due to be published in spring 2003.