NHS could be short of 350,000 staff by 2030

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The staffing crisis in the NHS is deepening so severely that it could face a shortage of around 350,000 staff by 2030, three leading health think tanks in the country have warned, saying that workforce challenges are now “a greater threat to health services than the funding challenges”.

The King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and The Health Foundation warned that not addressing the staff shortage problem could lead to consequences such as longer waiting times for patients to receive treatment, declined care quality and some of the NHS’s £20.5bn funding boost not getting spent. 

The report, published by the three think tanks on Thursday, cited a number of reasons for the problem, including “restrictive immigration policies exacerbated by Brexit” and “worryingly high numbers” of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs before retirement.

Currently, the NHS in England is already short of more than 100,000 staff, including 10,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses. If it continues on current trends, it is projected that the gap between the number of staff needed and the number of staff available could reach almost 250,000 by 2030.

“If the emerging trend of staff leaving the workforce early continues and the pipeline of newly trained staff and international recruits does not rise sufficiently, this number could be more than 350,000 by 2030,” added the report.

The NHS currently employs about 1.2 million people. A lack of 250,000 staff members would mean that one in six of all posts within the NHS would be vacant. Staff working in primary care, such as GPs and practice nurses are not included in the estimate.

Between July 2017 and July 2018, 1,584 more EU nurses and health visitors left their posts in the NHS than those who joined the service.

The report calls for the NHS Long Term Plan, which is expected to be published by the end of November or early December, to establish a “funded and credible strategy” to address the immediate workforce shortages and inequalities in recruitment, pay and career progression, support new ways of working across the health and social care workforce, strengthen workforce and health service planning and deliver a sustainable workforce over the next 10 years.

The plan, produced by leading health organisations, including NHS England, will decide how the £20.5bn will be spent to improve services.

In an interview with Health Service Journal published on Wednesday, one day prior to the publication of the think tanks’ report, Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, acknowledged that the NHS was “worryingly” short of nurses, GPs and mental health staff.

He suggested that the Long Term Plan would feature plans such as attracting staff from abroad to tackle the problem.

“We’ve got work going on on training, and you’ll see a lot more on that in the long-term plan especially with respect to nurses,” Hancock said.

Candace Imison, the Director of Policy at the Nuffield Trust, commented on the briefing: “The NHS has a woeful track record in ensuring that the health service has the right numbers of it needs in all the right places… unless the NHS Long Term Plan puts in place urged and credible measures to shore up the workforce both in the short term and in the longer term, it risks being a major failure.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, blamed the staff shortages on government mismanagement of the NHS and the “deepest financial squeeze in history”.

“The secretary of state will be judged on whether his NHS Plan implements a credible, resourced strategy to ensure our NHS has the staff it needs.”


Words: Leyi Chen | Subbing: Sorcha Gilheany

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