The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out how the NHS will address existing vacancies and meet the challenges of a growing and ageing population by recruiting and retaining hundreds of thousands more staff over 15 years and working in new ways. It is a once in a generation opportunity to put staffing on a sustainable footing and improve patient care, focussing on retaining existing talent and making the best use of new technology alongside the biggest recruitment drive in health service history to address the gap.
Increasing training places
Since its foundation, the NHS has relied on the skills and dedication of staff who have come here from around the world and there will always be a place for them.
However, with demand for healthcare staff rising around the world the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out the path to:
- double medical school training places to 15,000 by 2031, with more places in areas with the greatest shortages
- increase the number of GP training places by 50% to 6,000 by 2031
- almost double the number of adult nurse training places by 2031, with 24,000 more nurse and midwife training places a year by 2031.
Taken with retention measures, the workforce plan could mean the health service has at least an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 more nurses and 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.
Meeting future requirements
Advances in technology and treatments mean that staff numbers and roles will change over time, so the NHS will refresh the Long Term Workforce Plan at least every two years to help meet future requirements.
This plan will kickstart efforts to address current shortages with an immediate boost in training numbers. By 2028, government investment will mean half a million trainees will have begun clinical training, on a path to increase by over 60% by 2031.
Over the next five years alone medical places will increase by almost a third, nursing degrees will increase by more than a third and GP training places will jump by a quarter.
To ensure the NHS can draw on the widest pool of talent, more training places will be offered through degree apprenticeships so staff can “earn while they learn” – gaining a full degree while ensuring they meet the high clinical standards required by the relevant professional regulators, including GMC and NMC.
One in six (16%) of all training for clinical staff will be offered through apprenticeships by 2028 – including more than 850 medical students.
The growing number of nursing degrees will be accompanied by a 40% rise in nursing associate training places over five years, with increases in other associate roles which will support and free up other clinical colleagues.
A renewed focus on retention, with better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working options, alongside government reforms to the pension scheme, should mean that up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer.
Investment in new technology will also help to close the gap and free up staff to focus on using their expertise to help patients.
The NHS will continue to harness advances in AI, with an expert group being set up to identify advanced technology that can be best used across the country.
Other measures to boost the NHS workforce include:
- Trainees will be on wards and in practices sooner, with plans to work with the GMC and medical schools to consult on the introduction of four-year medical degrees and medical internships, allowing students to start work six months earlier.
- More student nurses will be able to take up jobs as soon as they graduate in May, rather than waiting until September, with more reaching the frontline and treating patients more quickly.
- New medical schools could also open up in areas of the country where there is the greatest staffing shortfall, with similar plans for postgraduate medical training places.
- Training for around 150 additional advanced paramedics annually, including to support the delivery of same day emergency care.
- Expanding training places for clinical psychology and child and adolescent psychotherapy, on a path to increasing by more than a quarter to over 1,300 by 2031.
- A reduced reliance on expensive agency spend that could cut the bill for taxpayers by around £10 billion between 2030/31 and 2036/37.
- NHS Long Term Workforce Plan Summit (letter, 9 November 2023)