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Health Education England launches plan to strengthen NHS workforce

The NHS needs radical action to improve working conditions, boost training and retention and become a ‘model employer’ for staff.

These are the key findings of Facing the Facts Shaping the Future, a consultation document on workforce strategy in England going forward to 2027.

The strategy examines the challenges faced by the health and care system, charting the growth in the NHS workforce over the last five years while setting out the critical workforce challenges that will be faced over the next decade.

Produced by Health Education England, it sets out a range of measures to improve productivity, boost training and retention, open up new routes into nursing and prepare the future workforce for technological advances such as genomics, artificial intelligence and digital robotics, which are poised to transform modern medicine.

It recommends:

  • targeted retention schemes to encourage staff to continue working in healthcare, including an expansion of the nursing Return to Practice scheme and efforts to encourage European nationals to stay by ensuring a streamlined, user-friendly service for obtaining settled status
  • improvements to medical training and how junior doctors are supported in their careers, with a greater emphasis on producing more doctors in areas where there are the biggest shortfalls, including general practice and psychiatry
  • greater effort to improve the working practices of doctors in training, such as improving access to training opportunities and better communication around rotations and shift patterns
  • a far-reaching technology review across England, led by Professor Eric Topol looking at how advances in genomics, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence and robotics will change the roles and functions of clinical staff over the next two decades and what this will mean for future skills and training needs
  • making the NHS a more inclusive, ‘family-friendly’ employer, with more people wanting flexible working practices to enable them to balance work and family life.

The report concludes that despite increases in NHS staff more must be done to keep up with increased demand as the population expands and grows older.

It highlights the fact that up to 42,000 posts in nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions are not currently filled by substantively employed staff.

On the positive side, it says medical and nursing undergraduate places are set to rise by 25%; the highest-ever number of people are now entering GP training in the history of the NHS; and, NHS workforce vacancies reduced by up to 15% during 2016/17.

Professor Ian Cumming, Chief Executive, Health Education England, urged people to get involved with the consultation process.

“Continuing with a business as usual approach to workforce planning is no longer sustainable. There needs to be a major shift in the ways we plan in order to make sure we can meet the health needs of the country’s diverse and growing population in the future.

“This much anticipated report underlines just how big the workforce challenge is and will spark debate, rightly so.”

Following the consultation, a final report will be produced next July.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “It’s vital that the NHS has the right number of doctors with the necessary skill sets to meet rising demand from a growing and ageing population. It is positive that this document acknowledges the need for greater flexibility for staff to meet the demands of a modern workforce, and we welcome proposals for more support for junior doctors.

“We want the NHS to be an attractive and supportive employer, and for staff to have a safe and manageable workload, but we know that many doctors are struggling with stress and burnout. As many parts of the NHS struggle to recruit and retain staff, it is vital to understand and address the reasons for this, which can often include excessive workloads, low morale and a lack of investment in overstretched services.


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