New roles such as nursing associates will not be a “quick fix” for the health service and it could take up to 10 years before this part of the workforce is trained to a significant size, a think tank has warned in a report on NHS staffing.
The report said the role could only be brought in more quickly if either funding was diverted from existing healthcare roles to nursing associates, or if new, earmarked budgets were set aside to kick-start training.
However, it noted, the NHS was currently focussed on containing staff costs and as a result there was no evidence large numbers of people could be brought into the role quickly.
”The current approach to workforce policy needs to be overhauled so that staffing and funding are treated as two sides of the same coin”
Instead, re-training current staff or increasing the number of some existing roles would be a more cost-effective and faster strategy to fill workforce gaps, said the Health Foundation.
Those behind the report, called Staffing matters; funding counts, said an overhaul of the health service’s approach to workforce organisation was required and called for staffing and funding to be “treated as two sides of the same coin”.
The think tank noted the two professions in the NHS in England that were facing particular shortages were nurses and staff working in general practice.
It looked at a series of policies affecting these parts of the workforce, including the forthcoming introduction of nursing associates – designed to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses – as well as international recruitment, agency workers and the removal of bursaries for student nurses.
More effective use of temporary staff and international recruitment could help to buy time while a more sustainable approach to staffing was put in place, said the think tank.
Based on evidence from other countries such as Australia and the USA, the report also suggested that government plans to remove bursaries and introduce loans for student nurses in England next year “may contribute to an increase in the number of student nurses”.
However it said this was reliant on job availability and “affordable” fees, adding that the main constraints were the capacity of the education sector to cope with greater numbers of students and provide suitable clinical placements.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Funding constraints and workforce shortages without a doubt present the greatest risks to the delivery of [NHS England’s] Five Year Forward View – and the longer-term sustainability of our NHS.
“The current approach to workforce policy needs to be overhauled so that staffing and funding are treated as two sides of the same coin.”
“The recent decision for the UK to leave the EU will create additional challenges – both in terms of finances and the ability to attract and retain valuable European staff,” she added.
“We urgently need a fully aligned and coordinated national approach to workforce policy and planning, underpinned by greater predictability on funding, to ensure the NHS can sustain high quality health care for the long term,” said Ms Charlesworth.