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Hunt promises ‘robust’ workforce plan for NHS next year

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has today announced plans for a new national workforce strategy designed to help secure the long-term supply of nurses and doctors for the NHS.

The “robust, co-ordinated workforce plan”, due to be revealed and in place next year, will be the first time there has been an over-arching workforce strategy for the NHS since the early 2000s.

“Our call for a workforce strategy has clearly been heard”

Chris Hopson

Mr Hunt indicated the whole system plan – to be developed by Health Education England, would draw together all the current staffing initiatives – such as nursing associates and apprenticeships.

The government arm’s-length body HEE was due to publish its annual workforce plan for 2017-18 back in April, but has so far failed to do so. However, this plan would have covered a narrower brief, focusing on medical course places and nursing student placements.

The health secretary set out the broad plans for the new over-arching strategy at the NHS Providers annual conference in Birmingham on Wednesday.

The announcement follows increasing pressure for the government to act on NHS workforce issues, with a raft of reports issuing warnings on staffing and confirming another fall in nurse numbers.

Latest figures revealed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council on 2 November showed nurses and midwives were continuing to leave the profession at a greater rate than they are joining.

Over the summer the NMC published data from March showing its register had shrunk in size for the first time in recent history – from 692,556 in 2016 down to 690,773 in March 2017.

The number of nurses and midwives on the register was 691,416 in September 2016, but fell to 689,738 this September – representing a loss of 1,678 registrants in the space of a year.

In addition, a report published on Monday by NHS Providers itself warned that workforce problems were the most significant threat to delivering high quality care in the health service.

It stated that workforce concerns were the most pressing challenge for the majority of trust chief executives and chairs, and called for immediate action to tackle international recruitment concerns.

Chris Hopson

Chris Hopson

Chris Hopson

The report also criticised the “slow, disjointed, response” from the Department of Health and its arm’s-length bodies to the health service’s “growing workforce challenges”.

Meanwhile, last week, a report from think-tank the Health Foundation warned of a “growing gap” between government plans to increase the size of the NHS workforce in England and the reality of falling numbers of nurses and doctors.

The foundation criticised workforce planning as not being “not fit for purpose”, while noting the NMC figures showing that the number of nurses working in the NHS had fallen in the past year.

It echoed similar findings from fellow think-tank the King’s Fund that described a “worrying” trend since April of falling numbers of nurses in the NHS – a drop of around 700 in the space of a year.

The influential Commons health select committee also revealed in September that it was to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into the nursing workforce in England.

The inquiry is covering factors including workforce planning, Brexit and language testing, as well as government policies on scrapping student bursaries and creating new routes into the profession.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, responded to Mr Hunt’s comments with cautious optimism. “Our call for a workforce strategy has clearly been heard,” he said.

“However, there is a very significant difference between a future plan to grow workforce numbers and a much wider workforce strategy which addresses the key challenges the NHS is facing – as set out in our report There for us: a better future for the NHS workforce,” he added.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “Employers across the NHS will welcome the news that there will be a strategy in place to make clear how the NHS will collectively address the future supply, retention and development of its workforce.

“This is an opportunity to set out how actions to date will help employers in the short, medium and longer term, as well as be clear on what further actions will need to be taken at every level of the NHS and across government,” he said.

NHS national director for quality Ian Cumming

Ian Cumming

Ian Cumming

Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive at HEE, said: “We recognise the need for a coherent and cohesive workforce strategy, which is why we are working on the first whole system long term workforce strategy for 20 years, along with partner ALBs NHS England, Public Health England and NHS Improvement.’

“We will lead work on a strategy, that builds on our 15 year framework, to be published in draft form in December for engagement and, working with the widest possible range of partners and stakeholders, we will publish, on behalf of the NHS, a final strategy in summer 2018,” he said.

Professor Cumming added that the body was continuing to support the NHS and was introducing “new professions and new routes” into the service.

“Our nursing associate programme already has 2,000 people in training, last year we recruited a record number of GP trainees and our support for the emergency medicine workforce means this is now the fastest growing specialty in the country,” he said.

“We also continue to invest heavily in leadership, with programmes that directly support chief executives, along with other groups like community pharmacists,” he said. “We have also secured 3,596 nurses on our return to practice programmes.”

 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • I have numerous friends in South Africa who are truly brilliant nurses who would love to come and work in the U.K. But have no ancestry to work in this country. Is there something that can be done about this?

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  • peter rolland

    For all the years we have had workforce plans. It is amazing that we only now get a promise of a workforce strategy. It seems infeasible to develop a workforce plan in any robust and sustainable manner without a strategy to guide it.

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  • Hunt is a politician; don't listen to his words, watch his actions.

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