Thousands more doctors, nurses, dentists and other healthcare staff will be trained in the South East as part of the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan

The NHS has today published the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan setting out the strategy for recruitment, retention and training of NHS staff including doctors, nurses, dentists and other key healthcare staff to address the gaps in the current workforce meeting the needs of a challenging and ageing population.

The first ever plan, focuses on the challenges facing the workforce over the next 15 years and prioritises three areas where action will be taken to ensure the NHS has the workforce it needs for the future.

The plan focuses 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. The plan is backed with over £2.4 billion to fund additional education and training places over the next five years on top of existing commitments.

For the first time, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out long term workforce projections, with current workforce vacancies standing at 13,942.[i] in the South East the plan addresses how these gaps will be met over the next 15 years.

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.

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.

The Plan addresses workforce concerns around continuous learning and sets out the opportunities available for the workforce to progress and learn throughout their working life, delivering on the commitments in the NHS People Promise, ensuring that the NHS can attract and retain talent and support teams. This builds on work already under way across the South East to grow and retain the workforce, including at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, who have more than 110 apprentices, and an apprenticeship pathway which has recently enabled/ led to two former Maternity Support Workers (MSWs) becoming home grown midwives.

Supporting staff’s mental health and wellbeing is fundamental to retaining the workforce and at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, they recently opened a bespoke £2m health and wellbeing hub for staff which provides additional support and resources.

Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care Board has set out a new strategy for their system, which features in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, and aims to share talent and expertise across partners and sectors giving the opportunity to do things differently, to grow their own talent and create a unique cross-partner employment offer.

Vaughan Lewis, Regional Medical Director for NHS England South East, said: “The publication of our first-ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is a historic moment and gives us a once in a generation opportunity to put staffing on a sustainable footing for the years to come. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the NHS, it is more important than ever that we attract talent, retain skilled staff and support and encourage an even more diverse workforce.

“The NHS is nothing without its people and with this renewed focus on recruitment and retention, the Workforce Plan will ensure that the NHS can continue to support an increasingly diverse and ageing population to access health care across the spectrum from prevention and early identification of disease to specialist treatments.”

“The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan will enable us to improve the working environment for front-line staff, create better opportunities for career development and improve flexible working options. Alongside government reforms to the pension scheme, it will also mean that up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer to help care for patients now and into the future.”

The growing number of nursing degrees available 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.

NHS England intends to publish further iterations of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan at least every two years, to reflect the progress that has been made in delivering the actions set out here, and to take account of changes to the way services and care may be delivered in future.

Leon Hinton, Chief People Officer for Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our greatest strength is our people – this is what makes the NHS special, so it’s important that we have the right workforce with the right skills in place to care for patients both now and in the future.

“At Medway, we work with 23 different apprenticeship providers, offer 27 different apprenticeships from levels two to seven, and currently have more than 110 apprentices across the Trust.

“It’s thanks to the apprenticeship pathway that two former Maternity Support Workers (MSWs) have become our first home grown midwives and our first recruited apprentice within audiology has also just completed the Level 6 Healthcare Science Practitioner: Audiology pathway.

Janet Lippett, Acting Chief Executive of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said, “Our 6,500 members of staff are our greatest resource. Over the last year we’ve opened a bespoke £2million health and wellbeing centre for them. A grade two listed building, with dedicated facilities including a gym, quiet rooms, space for activities including yoga. It sits within beautiful, landscaped gardens and features a new facility for the safe storage of staff cycles to encourage more staff to cycle to work.

“This is all in addition to a host of other services we provide including a staff physiotherapy service which has recently been extended, and the new on-site staff psychologist, complementing online psychotherapy support, to help staff with their mental health. We’ve introduced a new Staff Health Checks + programme for over 40s which has already supported 600 staff.”

Read the full NHS Long Term Workforce Plan here

[i] Figure obtained for the period of 2022/23 Q4 (Mar-23) from the NHS Vacancy Statistics England, April 2015 – March 2023, Experimental Statistics NHS Vacancy Statistics England, April 2015 – March 2023, Experimental Statistics – NDRS (