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NHS trusts face staff shortage of more than 350,000 by 2030, think tanks warn

The NHS could have more than 350,000 vacancies by 2030 if emerging workforce trends continue, three healthcare think tanks have said.

The health care workforce in England: make or break?, jointly published today by The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust suggested that under present models of staffing there will be as many as 250,000 vacant NHS posts by 2030, rising from the current 100,000.

However, the report said NHS trusts might have more than 350,000 vacancies by 2030 under a “worst-case scenario”, which will occur if “the emerging trend of staff leaving the workforce early continues and the pipeline of newly trained staff and international recruits does not rise sufficiently”.

‘Poor workforce planning’

A series of factors have contributed to the difficulty to recruit and retain NHS workforce, according to the report. These are:

  • An ‘incoherent approach’ to the NHS workforce at a national level
  • Poor workforce planning
  • Inappropriate funding for training places
  • Restrictive immigration policies that have been exacerbated by Brexit
  • Frozen or capped pay increases
  • High numbers of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs before retirement

Speaking at the Best Practice show in Birmingham last month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock revealed that workforce is his “top priority”, and said that the £20.5bn by 2023 the Government allocated in June cannot be spent “without a bigger and better workforce”.

Five ‘key tests’

As the NHS prepares to release its long-term plan and HEE its national workforce strategy – which it will publish after the long-term plan – the think tanks said five key elements should be addressed:

  • Adopt urgent measures to address workforce shortages in the short-term, such as ‘boosting international recruitment in the aftermath of Brexit and improving staff retention’.
  • Ensure a sustainable workforce in the long term, for instance, looking at how to attract more nurses
  • Support new ways of working, such as multidisciplinary teams in GP surgeries
  • Tackle race, gender, and other workplace inequalities
  • Strengthen workforce and health service planning

The think tanks also said that similar issues can be found in the social care sector, which is at present short of 110,000 workers.

Given the close interdependence of the health and social care sectors, an appropriate strategy to address workforce pressures in social care is also needed, especially as the sector might suffer from plans to restrict the low-skilled migration to the UK after Brexit, according to the report.

In order to ensure that social care is also sustainable in the long-term, the Government will publish a social care green paper before the end of the year.

Commenting on the report, Health Education England said it “is working in partnership with NHS Improvement and NHS England to ensure the long-term plan for the NHS tackles issues raised in this report, including the immediate challenges of recruitment and retention as well as developing new roles, advanced practice and new ways of team working”.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Healthcare Leader.

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