Cash injection ‘needed to boost health staff numbers’

22 Mar 19

Tackling NHS workforce shortages in England will require £900m a year until 2023-24, think-tanks have said.

To overcome “severe” predicted shortfalls in the number of GPs and nurses the government will need to increase the budget for training and developing healthcare staff over the next five years, according to a joint report by the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation.

The report, out today yesterday, estimated nursing staff shortfalls will double to 70,000 in five years’ time and GP shortfalls will nearly triple to 7,000 over the same period.

Solutions proposed by the think-tanks include: offering cost-of-living grants of £5,200 a year to nursing students, tripling the number of postgraduates training to be nurses and increasing overseas recruitment.

Researchers said it is necessary to recruit an additional 5,000 nurses annually from abroad, which would in turn mean the government making “exceptions” to salary restrictions in its immigration white paper. The white paper currently proposes a salary threshold of at least £30,000 – less than a standard nurse’s salary.

The report said the shortfall of GPs “is so serious that it cannot be filled at all” and suggested using the skills of other staff including pharmacists and physiotherapists more widely alongside general practice. This though would require recruitment of 6,000 more physiotherapists.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Decisive policy change backed by targeted investment could eliminate nursing shortages over the next decade. But if the NHS is to have access to the skilled health workers it needs, the government must stop seeing funding for the workforce as a cost to be minimised and prioritise investment in training more staff.”

Pressures also exist in the adult social care sector where one in ten social worker roles are vacant, amounting to 110,000.

Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “NHS workforce shortages are mirrored in social care where poor pay and conditions continue to drive away staff. Social care is heavily reliant on overseas recruitment, but the government’s post-Brexit migration proposals risk limiting this vital source of workers. The government should go back to the drawing board to devise a route for care workers to enter the UK and develop a more sustainable funding model for social care.”

The think-tanks called for “radical action” in the forthcoming NHS Workforce Implementation Plan to solve staffing issues.

Candace Imison, director of workforce strategy at Nuffield Trust, said: “The imminent workforce plan needs to mark the moment we stop treating the staffing of health and social care as a second order issue. Our recommendations might seem radical, but the time for tinkering at the margins has passed.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We're supporting our workforce by putting General Practice at the forefront of our Long Term Plan for the NHS, in addition to funding towards up to 20,000 more staff working in GP practices – helping to free up GPs to spend more time with the patients who need them.

"We're also making funding available to increase university training places for nurses by 25 per cent, exploring how flexible working can better support existing staff and the upcoming Workforce Implementation Plan will set out how we can ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for future years.”

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