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My new year wish: A robust workforce plan for the NHS

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The bright lights of the new year celebrations have faded and as people get down to brass tacks, my thoughts are directed to the coming challenges facing the health and social care system across the four countries of the UK.

We are travelling through difficult times. Pressure on the health service is greater than ever, A&E departments are struggling to cope with demand, instances of delayed discharges are at record levels, I could go on… The scenario is familiar to all who work in the service, both public and private.

So is there any cause for new year cheer? I have a suggestion that might in some small way help.

“The decision to leave the European Union has created unnecessary anxiety among staff”

The backbone of the health and social care system is the staff, many of whom work tirelessly under huge strain and unrelenting pressure.

Many of these staff members are from overseas. The decision to leave the European Union has created unnecessary anxiety among staff, not just for those from the EU but also for our colleagues from across the globe. The Philippines, India, Australia and Ireland, to mention but a few.

In an uncertain world there is one certainty and it is that the UK will be dependent on overseas recruitment for many years to come. Now would be a good time for the Westminster government to issue an unequivocal message of reassurance that the staff currently working in the health and social care system are not going to have to leave the UK after the negotiations on our exit from the EU have concluded.

“The need for security is a bond that binds us all”

Why is this so important at this time? The need for security is a bond that binds us all. People will be raising families, making plans for the future of their children and deciding on their own career aspirations and direction of travel. The last thing we need is for staff to be leaving for other countries or returning to their homeland because of this uncertainty.

Poor workforce planning has blighted the NHS for decades. The need to develop a robust plan is now greater than ever. I’m not bothered about titles; how depressing it is that the semantics of whether or not it should be associate nurse or nursing associate is the issue being discussed rather than what type of workforce we need in what numbers and the scope of responsibility.

In early December, I was at two meetings on the same day. In the first, a distinguished doctor spoke of the need to accept that we have too many doctors and that the development of other disciplines was the key to the future. A few hours later another doctor of equally eminent scholarship spoke of the need to increase the number of training places for doctors as the present numbers are insufficient to meet current demand. I personally do not know the answer, but we sure do need to establish one.

I’m currently the chairman of the Medway NHS Foundation Trust, which is a hugely enjoyable role.

“We could not cope without these wonderful colleagues”

A few days before Christmas, I visited a number of wards and departments. The hospital has a wonderfully cosmopolitan workforce. I met people from Poland, Holland, the Philippines, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, not to mention that we have an Australian CEO who has made a major impact on the fortunes of the Trust.

We could not cope without these wonderful colleagues. I also had the highly rewarding experience of sitting in on a development session for our junior doctors. I left the session invigorated by their enthusiasm and passion. Equally impressive was the consultant anaesthetist, Sarah, who is clearly a tremendous role model for these young doctors. My thoughts, however, were on how many of these young doctors would wish to stay in a health service where they are so overworked. At the same time, they are subject to seductive offers from the US and Australia where the working conditions lend themselves to doctors being able to practise medicine in the way that they were trained.

So, my new year wish is that everyone involved in the planning and delivery of service should commit to developing a robust and comprehensive workforce plan and get down to the tough business of implementing it.

A start would be to reassure those who are from other countries that not only are they needed and valued but that we also need them to stay.

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