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  • 15 May 2023
  • 6 min read

Will The NHS Exist In Name Only If Staffing Shortage Predictions Come True?

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    • Richard Gill
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  • 1354
Workforce plan fund nursing crisis resolution“Any workforce plan, when it is published, must contain a fully funded strategy for ending the crisis in nursing.” Patricia Marquis, England director for the Royal College of Nursing

A leaked NHS workforce plan has predicted that without substantial investment in training and recruitment, by 2036, staff shortages in the health service for full-time or equivalent staff could reach 571,000.

That 571,000 would be equivalent to over a third (37%) of the NHS’ current workforce of 1.6 million.

The plan predicts that if current workforce trends persist, by 2036 the NHS will be unable to manage the increasing demand for care that will result from both a growing and ageing population. Rural health services, which are already facing difficulties attracting sufficient staff, may be unable to operate.

Should the scope of what treatment the NHS is able to offer be reassessed, and if so, do you think that it would be politically survivable for a government to be perceived as removing the ‘universality’ of the NHS?

Could This Be Prevented?

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To prevent such a deterioration in service provision, the NHS plan advocated for investment in training to improve and develop the workforce. The plan estimated that the total number of NHS staff being trained per year needed to grow by 55%, from just over 66,000 to just over 102,000.

In addition, the plan also recommended that the number of nurses trained each year should rise by 77% and the number of medical school places in the UK be doubled, rising from 7,500 to 15,000.

If the plan’s recommendations were to be accepted, is there a concern that the additional funding required would need to come, at least in part, from existing budgets?

Staffing Crisis “Far Worse” Than Official Estimates

The leaked document also revealed that the current crisis in NHS staffing is far worse than official estimates.

The document suggested that the NHS is currently operating with a shortage of approximately 154,000 full-time equivalent staff, far above the official figure of 124,000.

“Health and care services are facing unsustainable pressures and patient care is at risk, yet there has been a long-term failure to provide the investment grow the nursing workforce” explained Patricia Marquis, England director for the Royal College of Nursing.

In response to the publication of the workforce plan, chief executive of NHS Providers, Sir Julian Hartley, appealed for “no more delays” in publishing the plan.

Do you think, given that 2036 is only 13 years away, there is enough time for the government and NHS management to agree a plan of action and see it through, especially if in 2024, there is a change of government in the UK?

“Any workforce plan, when it is published, must contain a fully funded strategy for ending the crisis in nursing.” Patricia Marquis, England director for the Royal College of Nursing

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What About International Recruitment?

The plan also identified the recent surge in the number of overseas workers in the NHS, who now account for one in six of the workforce, double what it was in 2014, as a source of disquiet.

“International recruitment has supported necessary increases in some staff groups, such as doctors and nurses, but does not offer a universal solution to rising workforce demand,” the plan stated.

Anita Charlesworth, the director of research at the Health Foundation thinktank, said: “Around half of newly recruited NHS doctors and nurses are currently trained overseas – in the long term this is unsustainable and unethical in the context of a global shortage of medical staff.

“Relying on agency staff to plug gaps pushes up the cost of care, a prime example of the inefficiency resulting from the Treasury’s failure to spend on training new staff. The NHS workforce plan must set out comprehensive, long-term measures to recruit and retain the domestically trained staff needed by the NHS and commit the funding to pay for this” she explained.

Do you think that the NHS has in effect, become ‘addicted’ to the use of overseas workers, and that even with more domestically trained healthcare workers employed in the future, the requirement for healthcare workers from overseas will remain a sizable part of the overall staffing landscape?

Will Action Be Taken?

A source from DHSC said: “We are driving forward progress to recruit more staff into the NHS to help treat patients more quickly, with more than 4,800 doctors and almost 10,900 more nurses compared to a year ago.”

Do you think political contention around the NHS mean that clear, decisive action is unlikely, and that whatever steps are taken will be for the political benefit of the incumbent government, and not solely for the good of the health service, its staff and patients?

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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  • 1354

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    • Blessing Esekie one year ago
      Blessing Esekie
    • Blessing Esekie
      one year ago

      This as indicated is far worse than what's seen on the surface. The issue should be disaggregated before solution is ... read more

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