The long-awaited workforce plan has been announced today, which the Government describes as the first comprehensive workforce plan for the NHS, aiming to put staffing on a sustainable footing and improving patient care. The plan focuses on retaining existing talent and making the best use of new technology alongside the biggest recruitment drive in health service history.
An address was made by the Prime Minister at noon.
Background to the NHS plan
The plan, which has been delayed for more than a year, has been called “historic” by NHS leaders. Rishi Sunak said that he recognises that “the NHS can do nothing without its staff” and understands that the pandemic demonstrated their skills and dedication to healthcare.
The Government asserts that it has already invested significantly in education and training, claiming that NHS spending this year is at a record high, around 16% higher in real terms than in 2019/20. Moreover, the department of health claims that there are more staff working in the NHS than at any point in its history, including a record number of doctors and nurses.
Overall, the NHS in England employs around 1.6 million people, one of the world’s largest employers and the largest in the UK. Compared to other healthcare systems globally, the NHS is particularly reliant on international recruitment; around one quarter of the workforce are recruited from overseas.
The NHS also has significant levels of temporary staffing to cover a vacancy rate of 8% (March 2023). Temporary staff, such as doctors and nurses, supplied by agencies cost on average 20% more than those from than those from the NHS’s own ‘staff banks’ despite doing the exact same job.
The NHS plan
In a letter to NHS workers from Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England and Navina Evans, Chief Workforce, Training and Education Officer, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was set out. In collaboration with staff groups and wider experts, with the support of the Government, the report claims that this is the first time that the NHS has produced a comprehensive long term workforce plan, and represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put staffing on a sustainable footing for the future.
The letter also states that funding is confirmed until 2028 which will allow actions to be taken locally, regionally, and nationally to address the gaps in the current workforce and meet the challenge of a growing and ageing population.
The priority areas
Actions fall into three priority areas:
Train: significantly increasing education and training to record levels, as well as increasing apprenticeships and alternative routes into professional roles, to deliver more doctors and dentists, more nurses and midwives, and more of other professional groups, including new roles designed to better meet the changing needs of patients and support the ongoing transformation of care.
Retain: ensuring staff are kept within the health service by better supporting people throughout their careers, boosting the flexibilities we offer our staff to work in ways that suit them and work for patients, and continuing to improve the culture and leadership across NHS organisations.
Reform: improving productivity by working and training in different ways, building broader teams with flexible skills, changing education and training to deliver more staff in roles and services where they are needed most, and ensuring staff have the right skills to take advantage of new technology that frees up clinicians’ time to care, increases flexibility in deployment, and provides the care patients need more effectively and efficiently.
Rishi Sunak claims that recovering services after Covid-19 and cutting waiting lists is one of his top priorities. This long-awaited plan appears hopeful and symbolises recognition from the Government that repeated calls from NHS staff are finally being listened to.
Curia’s NHS and Life Sciences Commission
Following the successful launch of the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission’s 2022 Report, the Commission will appraise the outlined recommendations in 2023. This will allow a measurement of success to be taken on each implementation and a review of new priorities for the NHS and life sciences industry. The Commission will continue to review case studies to highlight best practice for the 2022 recommendations. Through a series of sprints, the Commission will highlight real-world experiences in regions across the UK. Through targeted health data mapping, relevant areas of unmet need and health inequalities can be chosen. Each sprint may appraise one or multiple topic areas from the 2022 report.
The Commission will also hold dedicated inquiry sessions into specific system-level and therapeutic areas of focus. Using the same methodology, the inquiries will provide opportunities for the Commission to gain implementable solutions to these areas and develop similar policy recommendations and reports.
The Commission will continue periodic consultation with selected advisory group bodies and sponsors to steer the methodology and direction of the 2023 activities.