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NHS staff shortages to rise from 100,000 to almost 250,000 by 2030

NHS staff shortages could rise to 350,000 in future if more is not done to improve recruitment, think tanks warn.

A new analysis predicts an increase in NHS staff shortages from over 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030, warning that it could rise higher.

That would mean more than one in six health service posts would be short of an appropriate staff member by the end of the next decade.

The three think tanks – the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundations – warn that these shortages could be over 350,000 if the NHS continues to lose staff and cannot attract skilled workers from abroad.

These shortages mean the forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan risks becoming an unachievable ‘wish list’ of initiatives to improve the health service, it says.

If unaddressed, these shortages could lead to growing waiting lists, deteriorating care quality and the risk that some of the money for frontline services pledged in the Budget will go unspent.

The briefing, entitled The health care workforce in England: make or break? draws on a new forecast of the staffing gaps emerging in the 1.2 million-strong NHS workforce.

The briefing comes as NHS leaders are poised to publish their blueprint of how the health service can adapt to the next 10 years in response to the £20.5bn funding boost confirmed by the Chancellor at the Budget last month.

It warns that even before this funding increase was pledged, the NHS could not recruit the staff it needed because of an incoherent approach to workforce policy at a national level, poor workforce planning, restrictive immigration policies and inadequate funding for training places.

Funding for education and training dropped from 5% of health spending in 2006/7 to 3% in 2018/19, the equivalent of a £2bn drop.

Now, with worryingly high numbers of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs before retirement, and training budgets among those facing potential cuts following the Budget, the organisations say that the health service is reaching a tipping point.

Unless new staff can quickly be recruited and trained, the NHS simply will not have the workers available to meet the demand for healthcare expected over the next decade, exacerbating recruitment and retention problems.

This will mean that even with the extra money to commission frontline services, healthcare providers will not have the staff to deliver them.

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 analysis calls on the government to urgently address the immediate workforce shortages, and develop a credible workforce plan for the next 10 years.

Richard Murray, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, said: “The NHS cannot meet increasing demand from patients without the workforce to staff services.

“Unless the NHS long-term plan is linked to a credible strategy for recruiting and retaining staff, 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.”

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