Growing for the future

In recent months, the NHS has experienced significant and high-profile public support. We must build on this urgently, to recruit across our workforce, maximise participation and reverse the trend of early retirement.

Building on momentum

There is much more to be done to address the gaps in our workforce across various roles, professional groups and geographies. But if we are to address the pressures of workload and deliver the care patients need, we need to focus now on what we can do to grow our workforce in the coming months. This is all the more critical as we face challenging times for international recruitment.

Since COVID-19, there has been an unprecedented interest in careers in the NHS. Already, this interest has translated into higher numbers of applications to education and training (see renewed interest in NHS careers). We must seize the opportunity to recruit directly into entry-level clinical roles, apprenticeships and non-clinical roles, refreshing our talent pipelines. We have also seen an overwhelming response to the call to recently retired and former staff to join the COVID-19 response (see ‘Focus on recruitment’). This suggests there is more we could do to encourage previous members of staff to re-join the NHS.

Renewed interest in NHS careers: Interest in careers within the NHS continues to soar, with unprecedented hits on the newly revamped Health Careers website. The overall number of page visitors looking for information on training to be a nurse rose by 138% between March and June, with a 103% increase in people seeking information on becoming a paramedic. There was a 152% increase in interest in diagnostic radiography and a 218% rise in interest on becoming a high intensity therapist.

This has already translated into healthy numbers of applications for a range of healthcare courses. We have seen more applications from UK-domiciled applicants than ever before, an increase in 18-year-old applicants in England, and the highest proportional growth in applicants from the most disadvantaged groups. In particular, nursing-related courses have seen a 17% rise in applicants and an increase in applicants from more mature age groups – reversing recent worrying trends – with a 32% increase in applicants for mental health nursing.

NHS England and NHS Improvement and HEE continue to work with the government to achieve their commitments to expand the primary care workforce, including GPs and nurses. They will also work with government over the remainder of 2020/21 to determine the priorities for further investment in our workforce.