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  • 07 August 2023
  • 5 min read

Can The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan Succeed Without Sufficient Attention To Retention Strategies?

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    • Richard Gill
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NHS workforce plan“A long-term workforce plan that’s resourced to meet future staffing needs is fundamental for the future success of the NHS.” Sir Julian Hartley, Chief Executive of NHS Providers

Nurses have disparaged the recently unveiled NHS workforce plan for not tackling issues around the retention of experienced staff.

The long-awaited plan includes the intention to increase adult nursing training places by 92% by 2031-32. Over the same period, training places for mental health nursing will increase by 38% and 46% for learning disability nurses. Training places for nursing associates are set to increase to 10,500 as well.

Does The NHS Have The Capacity For More Training?

In total, the NHS would recruit 190,000 extra nurses over the next 15 years if the plan were fully implemented.

However, where the capacity to train additional students would come from is a matter of concern for some nursing leaders. “Just saying it does not make it happen” commented British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland.

Do you agree with Ms Credland? Have the workforce planners given sufficient consideration to how the additional training places are to be resourced?

The RCN, whilst lauding the ambition and scope of the NHS plan, admitted it harboured serious reservations about how realistic the plan would be without the requisite investment in the existing nursing workforce and greater financial support for those wishing to become nurses.

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Will The Plan Help With Retention?

The plan does contain some retention strategies, such as improved flexible working options and reforms to the pension scheme.

However, as RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen explained:

“You can’t recruit your way out of a retention crisis, and we wish to see detailed plans to keep the experienced staff needed to make any proposals work. The plan must not forget that effective ways to attract people into the profession is to pay staff fairly and demonstrate there are options for career progression”.

She cautioned that “in the immediate term, the government must address how the severe shortage of nursing staff is contributing to working conditions and burnout, and capture data on safe staffing levels”.

While expanding places is key, it requires the experienced nurses to support students during their education” she continued.

Do you think that with staffing shortages and patient demand as they currently are, the NHS has the capacity to make experienced nurses available to support an enlarged cohort of student nurses?

“A long-term workforce plan that’s resourced to meet future staffing needs is fundamental for the future success of the NHS.” Sir Julian Hartley, Chief Executive of NHS Providers

What About Current Staff Shortages?

Professor of healthcare and workforce modelling at South Bank University Alison Leary, welcomed the plan, saying “it was positive there was some focus on retention and flexibility”, but she questioned how increased numbers of apprentices would be trained with a diminishing workforce.

“The mass expansion of apprentice workers without the workforce to train them is a risk”, she explained to Nursing Standard.

“The plan comes after years of chronic NHS staff shortages, as well as existing staff being stretched thinly…And while the announcement includes a welcome commitment to boost staff training places, we are yet to see much of the detail on the measures to retain current NHS staff, or to improve the culture and working environment of the health service“ said Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund in response to the NHS workforce plan.

When further details about the plan emerge, would you expect that a lot of the ‘additional’ measures will end up requiring pre-existing resources to be redeployed, rather than utilising genuinely new extra resources?

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Could Reliance On International Recruitment Be Reduced?

The workforce plan also aims to rectify the UK’s over-reliance on internationally trained nurses, through a ‘near doubling’ of nursing education and training places.

Training more staff domestically is intended to reduce reliance on international recruitment from nearly a quarter of NHS staff at present to approximately 10% of the workforce.

However, recruitment of nurses internationally ‘would need to remain at least around current levels in coming years’ to meet workforce demand in the short and medium term, the plan revealed.

Will continued recruitment and reliance on overseas staff mean that, as the workforce plan comes up against the inevitable political and financial obstacles, the government and NHS bosses will discard troublesome workforce targets in favour of an easier and already established pipeline of internationally trained staff?

Please let us know what you think in the comments, and Like the article if you found it interesting.


About the author

I believe people working in healthcare should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career. This leads to better patient care, higher retention rates and happier working lives in this most important employment sector.

    • Richard Gill
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    • Nikki Goodhew 10 months ago
      Nikki Goodhew
    • Nikki Goodhew
      10 months ago

      Pat Cullen has it right when she says "you can't recruit your way out of a retention crisis". To all ... read more

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