The highly anticipated NHS Workforce Plan was released last week, with many weighing in to give their assessment. The main themes of ‘train’, ‘retain’, and ‘reform’ have generally been well received but as with all grand plans, what matters now is execution.
Akeso highlights three key areas that will be instrumental in the successful execution of the ambitious plan.
The commitment to support recruitment across a wide range of healthcare roles is commendable – with a target of an additional 300,000 clinicians by 2036/2037, including 170,000 nurses and 60,000 doctors. This is based on top-down national-level modelling to steer the strategy in the right direction.
To translate these targets, it is essential that ICBs and their regional partners develop their own local service plans. These plans must be founded on locally validated capacity and demand, informed by assumptions linked to innovative, technology-enabled workforce models.
This is a long-term plan to expand workforce and will require a productivity increase of up to 2% to fund new initiatives. This investment will be needed if we are to realise the ambition of “delivering care closer to home while avoiding costly admissions, achieving operational excellence, and reducing administrative burden through better technology and infrastructure.’’ Therefore, it is imperative ICBs and NHS organisations can deliver achievable Financial Improvement Plans, which depend on two main factors:
- a sustainable investment in NHS estate and equipment
- use of technology and digital innovation (with consideration for funding availability)
Perhaps the most challenging initiative is to retain staff, starting by making the NHS an attractive place to work. In 2022, the reported level of absence due to sickness was 5.6% (well above the public sector average), which equates to 27 million days across 2022 and 74,500 full-time equivalent staff.
Unsurprisingly, morale is also declining, with nearly a third of NHS staff thinking about leaving their organisation. Further research on why this is the case is urgently needed but, in the meantime, immediate solutions to retain staff must be implemented.
However, the plan does little to address the elephant(s) in the room: pay, compensation and terms and conditions. The recent strikes by doctors and nurses highlight that significant progress is needed in these areas.
Equally important is attracting and retaining non-clinical roles, particularly in medical technology, to support use of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation diagnostic solutions and treatments to deliver improved, efficient and patient-focused care.
Read the full NHS Long Term Workforce Plan 2023 on NHS England’s website.