Staff Shortages Threaten NHS Long-term Plan: Report

Nicky Broyd

November 15, 2018

According to the first of two reports by The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust, staff shortages in the NHS in England now present a greater threat to health services than funding.

The group of leading health thinktank experts predicts an increase in NHS staff shortages from over 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030 and warns the figure could be over 350,000 if the NHS continues to lose staff, fails to adequately fund training places and can't attract workers from abroad. 

The figures do not include GPs and practice nurses working in primary care.

Recruitment Tipping Point 

The briefing, The health care workforce in England: make or break? says high numbers of doctors and nurses are leaving work before retirement, and the health service is reaching a tipping point. Unless new staff can quickly be recruited and trained it predicts the NHS will not have enough workers to meet the growing demand for healthcare.

Anita Charlesworth, director of economics at the Health Foundation said in a news release: "Unless the government and system leaders take radical action and prioritise the NHS workforce, staffing shortages will more than double to almost a quarter of a million by 2030. The NHS can’t sustain current services, let alone improve, with such a large and growing gap between the staff it needs and the people available to provide care."

The experts say that although the Government has this year announced more money for frontline services, healthcare providers may not have the staff to deliver them.

Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said that "there is a real risk that some of the extra funding pledged by the government will go unspent and waiting lists for treatment will continue to grow."

Long-Term Plan

The report comes as NHS leaders are poised to publish a long-term plan setting out their ambitions for the NHS. It's due out towards the end of this month or early next and will then be worked on at a local level until the summer of 2019.

The expert briefing says the NHS long-term plan must address the workforce crisis and requires a ‘funded and credible strategy’ to:

  • Address the immediate workforce shortages by radically boosting international recruitment in the aftermath of Brexit and improving staff retention

  • Expand training places and apprenticeships, with the Government looking into financial incentives to attract more nurses

  • Support new ways of working across the health and social care workforce, including making better use of existing staff with a far greater role for nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists in family doctors’ surgeries

  • Address inequalities in recruitment, pay and career progression

  • Have a more coherent and transparent approach to planning at all levels of the system.

Without tackling the problem of staff retention and recruitment, the report says there could be growing waiting lists, deteriorating care quality and the risk that some of the money for frontline services pledged at the Budget will go unspent.

Commenting on the briefing, Candace Imison, director of policy at the Nuffield Trust said: "The NHS has a woeful track record in ensuring that the health service has the right numbers of staff it needs in all the right places. This has now reached a critical juncture: unless the NHS Long Term Plan puts in place urgent and credible measures to shore up the workforce both in the short term and in the longer term, it risks being a major failure. Solving the acute and systemic problems affecting the healthcare workforce will not be easy, but we owe it to patients, staff and taxpayers to start now.'

The experts say their briefing will be followed by a more in-depth report looking at measures that can be taken by local and national bodies to secure the workforce of the future.


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