NHS England and NHS Improvement have published the interim NHS People Plan that sets a vision for how people working in the NHS will be supported to deliver care and identifies the actions it will take to help them.  

The plan was developed collaboratively with national leaders and partners including the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), NHS managers and staff unions and focuses on three key areas: recruiting more staff, making the NHS a great place to work, and equipping the NHS to meet the challenges of 21st-century healthcare. 

The plan also argues that as well as recruiting more staff, the NHS needs to do more to improve staff retention and transform ways of working.

The NHS employs more than 1.3 million people but had almost 108,000 vacancies at the end of June 2018. The interim report revealed there are approximately 40,000 substantive nursing vacancies in hospitals and health services across the UK, with a majority (80%) of these shifts currently covered by agency staff.

Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson said: “Trusts leaders tell us that the range of workforce challenges they face, centred on recruiting and retaining the right number of staff, are their number one concern. There is no single, quick solution to these problems. They have developed over several years and will require concerted, purposeful, action over a similar time period to start addressing them."

He said that the plan is a welcome statement, for the first time, that solving our workforce challenge isn’t just about future workforce planning and more money, important though these are.  

A single plan needs to be agreed

He added: "We particularly welcome the much more inclusive way this plan has been developed and the speed of the work, which have genuinely felt different. You can’t solve a problem in a system as complex as the NHS until everyone agrees to align behind a single plan."

The King's Fund also welcomed the focus on making the NHS a better place to work as there is strong evidence that a motivated and engaged workforce delivers better care for patients.

Suzie Bailey, Director of Leadership and Organisational Development at The King’s Fund, said: "Years of poor workforce planning have left patients facing longer waits for treatment as the NHS struggles to recruit and retain enough staff to deliver services.

"In the long term, the NHS needs to become more self-sufficient in training its own nurses. The plan acknowledges the damage caused by the government's education reforms including the abolition of student bursaries, yet offers little action to address this. This needs the government to act by offering more financial support to student nurses. Health and care services need to hold on to the staff they already employ."

Mental health and learning disability services should be prioritised

Responding to the publication of the Interim NHS People Plan, Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said that mental health and learning disability services have the highest levels of vacancies.

He said that recruiting and retaining these staff must be an absolute priority, so it is pleasing to see that recognised in the plan.

“Our members are making impressive progress in retaining nurses but there is still a way to go and the plan should help. It is also pleasing to see lived-experience being woven into improving services.

"However, in order for this strategy to be effective, we need to ensure the investment already promised in the Long Term Plan reaches the front line and – as stated in the Interim People Plan -  that Continuing Professional Development funding returns to previous levels. We look forward to seeing this reflected in the spending review and the final plan.”