The NHS Workforce Plan (“Plan”), published on Friday 7 July 2023, outlines a number of Government interventions designed to reform the NHS workforce in a sustainable way for the future.
This could not come at a more crucial time amidst the strikes over pay and working conditions in general.
The Government has backed the Plan with £2.4 billion that is set to address NHS vacancies and meet the challenges of having a growing and ageing population over the next 15 years.
The themes of the Plan are “Train, Retain, and Reform”.
The Plan states that by expanding domestic education, training and recruitment, reliance on agency staff can be reduced and reliance on international workforce recruitment is expected to reduce from 25% currently to 10% in 15 years’ time.
This will be achieved by:
- Doubling the number of medical schools by 2031, from 7,500 to 15,000, with the first places at the new schools being available from September 2025;
- Increasing GP training places by 50% up to 6,000 by 2031, with the first 500 training places available by September 2025;
- Nearly doubling the number of adult nurse training places by 2031, having more than 24,000 more nurse and midwife training places and 5,000 more mental and learning disability nurses per year; and
- Expand dentistry training places by 40%, having more than 300 additional training places by 2031.
In addition to the above, it has been proposed that NHS England will work with the General Medical Council (“GMC”) to allow pharmacists and a select number of other healthcare professionals to train as medics under a shortened medical degree programme. Professionals who wish to participate in this programme will still be required to achieve all the usual standards and outcomes for graduates set by the GMC. Details on what this programme would include and how long it would take are yet to be released.
The Plan notes lofty aspirations to improve culture, leadership and wellbeing, which would aim to ensure that 130,000 fewer staff leave the NHS over the next 15 years.
The Plan proposes to achieve this in the following ways:
- Improving flexible opportunities for prospective retirees to keep them in the workforce longer as well as make it easier for retired workers to return to the workforce on either flexible contracts or temporary roles;
- Reform the pension scheme to enable staff to partially retire or return to work and continue building their pension after retirement;
- Commit to ongoing funding for continuing professional development for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals so that NHS staff can be supported; and
- Improve childcare arrangements to support NHS staff to remain in work.
The main reforms in the Plan are centered on utilising technological advances to their fullest.
- Using technological innovations such as Artificial Intelligence, speech recognition, robotic process automation and remote monitoring to support the workforce, which is estimated to allow for 44% of all administration work in general practice to be mostly or fully automated;
- Turn focus to expanding enhanced, advanced and associate positions; and
- Supporting medical schools to decrease their degree programmes from five to four years and pilot a medical internship programme which will reduce undergraduate training time with approval of the GMC.
This may beg the question about what is being done about the social care workforce, who is in equally desperate need of assistance.
In the Autumn Statement, the Government announced additional funding of up to £7.5 billion over the next two years to help boost capacity.
The Government also expects that investment in the NHS will help to alleviate the pressures on social care because some people who train in these professions will likely choose to work in social care once qualified.
Overall, there appears to be an influx in funding aimed at training and retaining individuals in the workforce. How effective these interventions will be is yet to be seen. Hopefully, as predicted, these new, shorter and more flexible routes to qualification and employment will enable the health and social care sector as a whole to resolve the current staffing crisis.