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Prime minister commits to 10‐year plan for the NHS with focus on building workforce

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More opportunities for flexible working and career development will be among key measures to feature in a new 10‐year plan for the NHS that will “reset the deal between the NHS and its staff”, according to prime minister Theresa May.

More opportunities for flexible working and career development will be among key measures to feature in a new 10‐year plan for the NHS that will “reset the deal between the NHS and its staff”, according to prime minister Theresa May.

In a flagship speech on NHS funding and the future of the health service, the PM also said government would be willing to look at plans for multi‐year funding for training places for doctors and other NHS staff – something universities that train nurses have long called for.

Speaking at the Royal Free Hospital in London at lunchtime on Monday, Ms May outlined plans to boost funding for the NHS with an average 3.4% annual rise from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

However, she also made it clear the government would expect improvements in performance in return as set out in a 10‐year plan for the future of the health service to be agreed “with the NHS” later this year.

Under the plans she said that by 2023-24 the NHS England budget would increase by £20.5bn in real terms compared with today.

“That means it will be £394m a week higher in real terms,” she told a specially invite audience, which included Royal Free nurses, doctors and support staff and other professionals from primary, community and mental health care and the voluntary sector.

“So the NHS will be growing significantly faster than the economy as a whole, reflecting the fact that the NHS is this government’s number one spending priority.

“This money will be provided specifically for the NHS. And it will be funded in a responsible way.”

She explained some of the additional cash will come from the so‐called “Brexit dividend”, but she confirmed that some funding would come from tax rises, which she promised would be implemented in a “fair and balanced” way.

She said these plans would be published before the next Spending Review. Meanwhile the government would also be publishing proposals “to put social care on a more sustainable footing” with budgets for social care and public health set out as part of the Spending Review.

In return for the funding boost she said the government would agree a 10 year plan for the future of the NHS designed to cut waste, eliminate bureaucracy, reduce variation and invest savings back into patient care.

She said it was vital the plan was supported and shaped by NHS staff but said NHS leaders must be accountable for making it happen and the service must return to meeting core performance standards.

“It must be a plan that enjoys the support of NHS staff across the country – not something dreamt up in Whitehall and centrally imposed,” she said. “But NHS leaders at national and local level must then be held to account for delivering this plan.

“This includes ensuring that over the medium term no NHS organisation is in financial deficit. And it includes getting every part of the health service back on the path to delivering core performance standards so patients are never left waiting when they most depend on the NHS, whether that’s for life‐saving emergency care or treatment for cancer.”

“Our ten year plan for the NHS must include a comprehensive plan for its workforce”

Theresa May

She said a key part of the plan would focus on building the NHS workforce, which she described as the “lifeblood of the NHS”.

“Today there are nearly 42,000 more clinical staff working in our NHS than there were in 2010. But to those working tirelessly on the front line, too often it doesn’t feel like that,” she said.

“Growing demand and increasing complexity have led to a shortfall in staff. So our ten year plan for the NHS must include a comprehensive plan for its workforce to ensure we have the right staff, in the right settings, and with the right skills to deliver world class care.”

Proposals to strengthen training and the supply of key staff could include looking at longer term funding for degree courses, she suggested.

“Recruitment takes time. Students entering medical school this autumn will not become consultants until the early 2030s. So we will consider proposals from the NHS for multi‐year funding for training places,” she said.

Ms May also said there was a need to provide more flexibility for staff both when it came to training and career paths.

“We will also need to create a more flexible workforce: with new routes into medicine and healthcare ‐ building on the work to create new apprenticeships and the Nursing Associate Programme ‐ and more diverse roles with the right skills to enable the holistic care we want to see,” said.

Immediate steps to boost the numbers of trained healthcare staff included the government’s decisions to remove nurses and doctors from the Tier 2 visa cap and make it easier to recruit from overseas.

“Working practices in the NHS have not caught up with modern lifestyles”

Theresa May

Ms May said the government would also explore ways to lure nurse and others no longer working on the frontline “to return to patient care in some way”.

She also highlighted the need to make careers in the NHS “more attractive” and provide some of the opportunities enjoyed by professionals working in other sectors.

“We need to recognise that today working practices in the NHS have not caught up with modern lifestyles,” she said.

“Think of the nurse working beyond his shift for the fifth day in a row who can’t pick up his children from school.

“Think of the junior doctor with limited choice about where and when she works who has to alter her plans because rotas are changed at the last minute without her having any say.”

“Many people working in our NHS will look at the flexibilities their friends and families enjoy and see that their own jobs don’t offer anything like the same.”

The same was true of career development in the NHS and more needed to be done to ensure staff could learn new skills and “take on new roles with new types of responsibility”.

“Long‐term plan must fundamentally reset the deal between the NHS and its staff”

Theresa May

“To change this, the long‐term plan must fundamentally reset the deal between the NHS and its staff,” said Ms May.

“It is right that we lifted the pay cap and made a significant pay increase a core part of the new offer to over a million NHS staff.

“But we must also take better care of staff and offer greater flexibility over where they work, when they work and what they can do.”

She said more must be done to support staff development and “provide meaningful opportunities to move between different organisations and into new roles”.

“Above all we need to listen to what staff themselves say about the support they need as they continue to deliver world class care in ever more complex clinical environments,” she said.

“These things are often just as important as pay. In short, we need a workforce strategy to make the NHS not just one of the world’s largest employers but one of the very best.”

She acknowledged that staff across the NHS had been under pressure due to multiple factors that had led to rising demand for health services.

“This has meant that despite more funding, more doctors and more nurses and great progress on treatments our NHS is under strain,” she said.

“Our NHS staff are rightly proud of what they do but they worry that their current workloads are not sustainable.”

The PM also spoke of the need to remove regulatory barrier standing in the way of delivering the best care and said the government would listen to NHS providers on that score.

She also spoke of the need to focus on prevention of ill health and ensure mental health services were placed on an equal footing with physical health.

Earlier in the day Ms May, together with chancellor Philip Hammond, health and care secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England chief executive Simon Steven, met staff and patients at the Royal Free.

Trust chair Dominic Dodd said it was a chance to hear direct about some of the challenges NHS were up against.

“I know they will have learned first‐hand some of the pressures our staff are working under but also some of their passions – their passion for making things better for patients, their passion for learning and sharing that learning and perhaps above all the passion for the shared endeavour that is the NHS,” he said.

During the speech Ms May, who has Type 1 diabetes, spoke of her personal experiences of NHS care and said she would not be where she was today without the support she had received from nurses.

“I will never forget the support – not just of my GP and consultants – but also the clinical nurse specialists attached to my local hospital. Their advice was critical enabling me to adjust to the new treatment regime, to manage my condition and minimise the impact on my life,” she said.

“I would not be doing the job I do today without that support.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It's not rocket science Mrs May!! More flexibility in working hours. Not putting us on nights and days in the same week would be a good start!
    MORE MONEY FOR ALL HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS, so not to use extortionate agency workers and lining private companies pockets with taxpayers money.
    Communication improvement plan. And how about caring about NHS staff....??? i have witnessed over 40 NHS staff leave in the last 3 years in a very small community hospital, just because of shifts and no flexibility and not being listened to by managers....FACT

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