The Government’s long-awaited NHS workforce plan appears to have been delayed as rumours circulate that it is too expensive.
According to deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery, the plan, which was expected for publication on 30 May, has been delayed further.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Cordery said the plan will require ‘a very significant commitment of funding’ from the Government.
Health secretary Steve Barclay declined to provide a deadline for publication during interviews over the weekend, according to The Guardian.
The workforce plan, which has already been delayed from last year, is expected to put forward solutions to address NHS understaffing, including expanding medical school places and potentially training apprentice doctors directly on the job.
Ms Cordery said: ‘We know that when it comes, it will be a very significant commitment of funding from the Government because what we’re talking about is setting out the number of training places and the number of staff that the NHS needs over the next decade or so.’
Of the delay, she added: ‘What everyone has been calling for, and what Jeremy Hunt committed to in his autumn statement last year and indeed talked about in the spring budget, was a fully-funded and fully-articulated workforce plan for the NHS.
‘So I think that we are talking about something to do with the funding of this plan.’
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England has joined 40 professional bodies, trade unions and patient groups to call on the Government to publish the NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan.
A joint letter raises concerns over ongoing delays to the publication of the workforce plan and urges the Prime Minister to take urgent action to help meet current and future patient needs.
English Pharmacy Board chair Thorrun Govind said: ‘The range of health and care leaders backing this letter shows just how important it is that the Government acts now to support our workforce.
‘It is vital that we recruit and retain the staff we need so we can keep looking after patients.
‘When we met NHS England in January, pharmacy leaders called for the plan to include the whole of pharmacy and to recognise the increasing role of pharmacist independent prescribers in our health service.
‘With teams under pressure across the system, this workforce plan also needs to support staff retention, secure protected time for learning and development, and ensure continued access to wellbeing services.’
The Times has also reported that disagreements over cost, which is believed to be in the tens of billions, have delayed publication of the plan.
A senior NHS source was quoted by the newspaper as saying that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt ‘can’t agree the financial commitment’ and that it ‘was all set to go this week and now the PM wants to run through it in detail’.
In March, reports of the plan revealed it would highlight that the health service is already operating with 154,000 fewer full-time staff than it needs and that number could balloon to 571,000 staff by 2036 on current trends.
The leaked report also said that without ‘radical action’, the NHS in England will have 28,000 fewer GPs, 44,000 fewer community nurses and an even greater lack of paramedics within 15 years.