Workforce shortages now a bigger threat to the NHS than funding

The health service’s staffing challenges have become so stark that they now present a bigger threat to the future of the NHS than cuts to funding, three leading think tanks have said in a sobering review of the sector’s workforce.

In a briefing published ahead of the long-term funding plan and the supporting workforce strategy and social care green paper, the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust argued that workforce issues have widened to such an extent that they are now the health service’s biggest liability.

The three organisations revealed that there is a shortage of more than 100,000 staff across NHS trusts which, based on current trends, could almost reach 250,000 by 2030. Worse yet, if the emerging trend of people leaving the workforce continues and if the pipeline of newly trained staff and international recruits doesn’t rise as much as needed, this number could surpass 350,000 by 2030.

Reasons behind the current shortages include the fragmentation of responsibility for workforce issues at a national level, poor planning, cuts in training funding, restrictive immigration policies made worse by Brexit, and “worryingly high” numbers of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs early, the review found.

If this problem does not subside, they could lead to even bigger waiting lists, deteriorating care quality, and a risk that some of the £20.5bn secured for frontline services will go unspent – as even if CCGs commission additional activity, providers may not have the staff to deliver it.

As a result, the three think tanks said the long-term plan and workforce strategy, both of which are due imminently, must pass five key tests: address workforce shortages in the short term and in the long term, support new ways of working, address race and gender inequalities in pay and progression, and strengthen planning at all levels of the system.

Responding to the report, NHS Providers’ deputy CEO Saffron Cordery said the findings provide a stark warning that the health service will not meet its long-term ambitions unless it acts immediately.

“Although there has been much discussion centred around long-term solutions and the need to address the lack of national workforce planning through the highly anticipated workforce strategy, we now need more immediate actions to ensure staff feel valued, stay within the NHS and to ensure we can continue to recruit internationally following Brexit,” she added.


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