Government to draw up national plan to tackle staff shortages
Photo: Alastair Fyfe
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled plans for a new national workforce strategy for the NHS in England, to tackle staff shortages and ensure the supply of skilled healthcare professionals in the years ahead.
Speaking to the NHS Providers conference on 8 November, Hunt said the government would bring together NHS England, Health Education England (HEE), NHS Improvement and NHS Employers to "to provide a whole system view of workforce pressures and how they will be tackled". HEE is leading work on the strategy and a single document setting out the government's plans is expected to be published in the new year.
The government has previously rejected calls for a national strategy, with ministers arguing that the Department of Health's role should be limited to co-ordinating existing work done by arm's-length bodies such as HEE and NHS England.
Recent reports by NHS Providers, the King's Fund, and other think tanks and royal colleges have revealed mounting pressures on staffing levels among nurses, doctors and other clinical professions as well as senior managers and IT staff. Official figures have also shown a sharp drop in the number of EU staff joining the NHS since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016.
MiP chief executive Jon Restell called on the government to consult with trade unions and professional bodies in drawing up the strategy.
"It's obviously good news that ministers and other system leaders now agree that the NHS needs a coherent national workforce strategy." he said. "We need to start with a realistic analysis of where we are now and where we should be, and where the key gaps are – otherwise it will lack credibility.
"The lack of money to keep up with demand, the negative impact of pressures and workload on employee experience, Brexit, and recruitment and retention need to be broached openly. We need to avoid creating a long, undeliverable wish list and we must give attention to the whole NHS team and the vital social care workforce. A long consultation period with good engagement with unions will help to create decent strategic priorities for the NHS."
The announcement was also welcomed by Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation. "As our latest report, Rising Pressure, made clear, we need to move away from short-term announcements and put in place a workforce strategy that gives those working for the NHS what they need to meet the considerable challenges they face.