Skip to main content

What is national planning?

Published on 26 August 2021

About national planning

National Planning is an NHSScotland (NHSS) wide agenda. It offers a new governance approach to decision making around the planning of key NHS clinical (and sometimes non-clinical) services. Finance, workforce, digital and infrastructure are all priorities within this. In short, it places focus on delivering quality and consistency across various specialist services.

The national planning agenda will centre around any NHS clinical services that can only be dealt with nationally. Generally, these will be population based.

The criteria for planning at a national level will be founded on volume (small numbers) and workforce (scarce/ super specialist skills). There is growing evidence to suggest a more significant relationship between volume of activity and patient outcome than previously acknowledged. New technologies or unnecessary variation in provision and/ or outcome of care across Scotland may also prompt a national review.

National Planning itself has four key functions, which are:


Commissioning portfolio groups to look at developing a longer-term view on what areas may need planning in the future. What will NHSScotland need to plan now for the coming five to 10 years?


A review of existing NHS services where regional and local plans highlight the potential for more effective service planning at a national level.

Service planning

Following on from reviews or exploration through horizon scans, national planning may form specific service planning groups. These will plan for the future model or service provision.


A key function of the NHSS National Planning Board is to ensure join up with other important boards. Working in partnership will ensure we're all planning for the future. Connecting to the finance framework, infrastructure board, digital board and workforce board will be crucial.

Governance and structure

The NHSS National Planning Board provides oversight, governance and decision making in relation to national planning of NHSS services and set the strategic direction for the medium to long term, taking account of the enabling resources – finance, workforce, digital and infrastructure. This replaces the previous National Planning Forum structure.

The Board met for the first time on 19 October 2018 and meets quarterly. Membership consists of Board Chief Executives/Implementation Leads, Executive Group representatives (e.g. Directors of Finance group); Scottish Government Directors/Deputy Directors, Regional Directors etc. The Board is chaired by the Chief Executive of Health Improvement Scotland and reports to the NHS Board of Chief Executives.

The Board is supported by a National Planning Executive Group, chaired by the chair of the NHS Scotland Directors of Planning Group. This group also meets regularly to ensure the work streams are progressing and to act as a conduit for work to be considered by the Board.

Support is provided to the whole National Planning process through the National Planning Team (NPT), which has the following functions: • providing the secretariat for the NHSS National Planning Board and its constituent groups, including the NHSS National Planning Executive Group • providing expertise to support the decision-making process – this spans planning, public health, data intelligence, evidence and economics • leading and delivering on service reviews, service planning and commissions for horizon scans

Contact our National Planning team for further information. You can also continue reading about each of the key areas of focus by navigating to the next page.