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Staffing shortfall could reach third of a million by 2030

GP shortages also an issue for NHS services

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Health experts are warning that the NHS could be short of as many as 350,000 staff by the end of the next decade, which represents a major risk to the imminent NHS Long Term Plan.

Three think tanks – The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust – published a joint briefing paper today which says that shortages of staff risk longer waiting lists, declining care quality and new NHS money going unspent.

The problem boiled down to critical and lasting shortages in the healthcare workforce that could mean the government’s forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan risked becoming an unachievable “wish list” of initiatives to improve the health service, they said.

The briefing, called The health care workforce in England: make or break? draws on a new forecast of the staffing gaps emerging in the 1.2 million-strong NHS workforce.

It predicts an increase in NHS staff shortages from over 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030, warning that this could mean that more than a sixth of health service posts might be short of an appropriate staff member by the end of the next decade.

These shortages could be even higher than 350,000 if the NHS continued to lose staff and could not attract skilled workers from abroad, it adds.

Demand for staff was calculated by projecting forward current vacancies in line with healthcare activity projections.

The briefing also says there are particular challenges in some specialties of medicine , saying: “GP practices are struggling to recruit and retain doctors such that the number of GPs has fallen in recent years.”

The warning comes as NHS leaders are about to publish their blueprint of how the health service can adapt to the next 10 years in response to the £20.5bn funding boost confirmed by the Chancellor in the Budget last month.

The briefing warns that even before this funding increase was pledged, the NHS could not recruit the staff it needed due to an unclear approach to workforce policy at a national level, poor workforce planning, restrictive immigration policies and inadequate funding for training places.

It sets five tests for the NHS Long Term Plan to:

  • address immediate workforce shortages
  • deliver a sustainable workforce over the next 10 years
  • support new ways of working across the health and social care workforce including making better use of skills of existing staff such as nurses and pharmacists in GP surgeries
  • address inequalities in recruitment, pay and career progression
  • strengthen workforce and health service planning.

Candace Imison, director of policy at the Nuffield Trust said: “The NHS has a woeful track record in ensuring that the health service has the right numbers of staff it needs in all the right places.”

Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “Unless the NHS long-term plan is linked to a credible strategy for recruiting and retaining staff, there is a real risk that some of the extra funding pledged by the government will go unspent and waiting lists for treatment will continue to grow.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: “Given the intense pressures currently facing our NHS, it frankly comes as little surprise to hear that an impending workforce shortfall will put the forthcoming NHS long-term plan at risk, if it is not comprehensively and effectively addressed from the outset.

“Workforce shortages are, as this report shows, being felt right across the NHS – and general practice is no different. Workload in our profession has escalated over the last few years in both volume and complexity, but our workforce is actually falling. We are currently short of at least 6,000 GPs in England.”

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