'Major shift' in NHS workforce planning needed to meet future demands - report

The NHS will need 190,000 new posts by 2027 based on its current model to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population, according to new research.

Health Education England (HEE), the body responsible for the NHS's workforce, found that at the current rate, only 72,000 new staff could be expected to join the service in the next 10 years.

In its report Finding The Facts, Shaping The Future: A Health Care Workforce Strategy for England To 2027, HEE found the NHS had not had a full strategy for recruiting or retaining staff for more than 20 years.

It found that despite an increase in staff in most disciplines since 2012, the health service was still overstretched partly due to population growth of 2.1 million in the last five years.

Further pressures include the fact that 11.6 million people in England are now aged 65 and over, an increase of 21% in a decade, while 1.5 million are aged 85 or over, an increase of 85%.

It estimated that one million extra people will have dementia by 2021, while the number of people with three or more long-term conditions will have risen to 2.9 million by 2018.

The NHS is the largest workforce in the country, making up 13% of all jobs, while 65% of the NHS operational budget is spent on staff, HEE has now launched a consultation to recruit and retain existing staff in a bid to increase the workforce.

In a six-point recruitment plan, HEE announced strategies to ensure the supply of staff from within the UK to stop the over reliance on staff from overseas as part of an NHS-wide consultation.

It also aims to create a more "flexible and adaptable" workforce through greater training so it is easier for specialist staff to work across disciplines, as well as providing greater access to flexible working patterns.

Also outlined were strategies to make it easier for staff to undertake training to help them progress their careers, and a recruitment drive from ethnic minority communities "so that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to contribute and benefit" from investment in the NHS.

It also emphasised the importance of greater integration between management and financial planning and the actual medical staff, "so that every significant policy change that has workforce implications is thought through and tested".

The consultation will run from December 13 until March 17 next year, and asks NHS staff to provide feedback on questions including what can be done to ensure staff at all levels see the NHS as "a valid and attractive career".

Other questions include, "How can we better ensure the health system meets the needs and aspirations of all communities in England?" and "What does being a modern, model employer mean to you and how can we ensure the NHS meets those ambitions?"

The report said: "Modelling shows that with no action, including increased productivity or service redesign, the NHS will need 190,000 additional posts by 2027."

It added: "If supply continues at the rate of the last five years, 72,000 new staff could be expected to join the NHS by 2027."

There are currently 45,000 vacancies in nursing, midwifery and associated professions, with each vacancy represented "pressure on the system", the report said.

Over half of NHS staff surveyed said they worked some unpaid overtime every week and a significant minority said they were unable to deliver the level of care they aspired to.

NHS recruitment drive
The NHS is struggling to recruit enough staff to keep pace with population growth (PA)

The research found an average of 15% of nurses were leaving NHS trusts each year, and 8.7% of nurses leaving the NHS entirely between 2016 and 2017.

Professor Ian Cummings OBE, chief executive of Health Education England, said: "Continuing with a business as usual approach to workforce planning is no longer sustainable.

"There needs to be a major shift in the ways we plan in order to make sure we can meet the health needs of the country's diverse and growing population in the future."

One strategy employed to get young people to consider a career in the NHS was drama production NHS Success! which was performed to over 500 students in the northeast in October.

Another way of filling roles was the Earn, Learn and Return scheme for foreign doctors to gain experience in the NHS before returning to their native countries.

Professor Cummings OBE added: "This is our first opportunity for a quarter of a century to ensure we have a comprehensive system-wide understanding of our workforce needs for the future; be that next year; five years away, or a decade away."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Health Secretary Hunt has criticised the "short-termist" approach to NHS recruitment and retention (PA)

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in statement: "NHS staff are our health service's greatest asset, but for too long, governments of all parties have taken a short-termist approach to NHS workforce planning.

"We need a proper plan that stretches beyond any electoral cycle, and secures the supply of NHS staff for future generations.

"This important work kick-starts that process."

Also announced was a commission to be led by HEE chair Sir Keith Pearson into the mental health and well-being of staff and students in the NHS, to help tackle issues such as depression, people leaving the service or course, and suicide.

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