Workforce plan will ‘honestly’ assess NHS nursing shortages

Baroness Dido Harding stated that an “honest assessment of shortages” in the NHS workforce was needed, with nursing the most urgent case to be looked at.

“We need to be really honest about shortages in staff”

Dido Harding

She made the comments while outlining what the workforce implementation plan, also now increasingly being referred to as the ”people plan”, for the NHS would look like and the challenges it needed to address.

The upcoming plan for workforce forms an extra to the NHS Long Term Plan, which was published earlier this year. Though the blueprint included a chapter on staffing challenges and support, it also stated that a plan specifically focusing on the NHS workforce would be published at a future date during 2019.

In a speech at the annual Royal College of Physicians conference on Thursday, Baroness Harding described five key elements that are expected to feature in the workforce plan, including the need for an assessment of shortages.

“We need to be really honest about shortages in staff,” she told the audience. As part of this, Ms Harding highlighted that nursing was the “most urgent” staff shortage that needed to be looked at.

Other key elements for the plan included: ‘Making the NHS the best place to work,’ ‘Inclusive and compassionate leadership,’ ‘Cross disciplinary and 21st century working’ and ‘Collaborative and continued work on the people agenda’.

“People planning is not a one-off exercise”

Dido Harding

“This is not a crash diet, it’s a new way of life for all of us,” Ms Harding said to delegates at the conference in Manchester. “People planning is not a one-off exercise,” she said.

In response to the speech, chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said that the sentiment expressed by Ms Harding was a “very welcome recognition about the severity of the workforce challenges the NHS faces”.

“You can’t solve a problem until you honestly and openly acknowledge its existence, scale and size,” he said.

Mr Hopson added: “All of the NHS together must get behind a single, clear, approach and develop a unity of purpose which has been sadly lacking for far too long.

Chris Hopson

Chris Hopson

Chris Hopson

“We welcome the ongoing process to develop the new NHS workforce plan as it’s been much more inclusive and moved at a much faster pace than what’s gone before,” he said.

“It really has felt different,” he said. “You can’t solve a problem in a system as complex as the NHS until everyone agrees to align behind a single plan and then everyone moves at pace to implement it.”

However, he warned that there would be “no single, quick, magic, fix”.

“We all want to see more money, more staff and solutions to long running problems like pensions and immigration rules as quickly as possible,” said Mr Hopson.

He noted that, given the timing of the spending review and the government’s focus on Brexit, “this was never going to be possible”.

“We should welcome the collaborative work and progress that has been made to develop the forthcoming interim plan, rather than bemoan what it cannot contain at this stage,” he said.

“But these issues must be addressed in time for the final plan. That includes the right outcome for NHS education and training budgets in the forthcoming spending review,” he added.

sara gorton for index

sara gorton for index

Sara Gorton

Unison head of health, Sara Gorton, also commented on Ms Harding’s speech.

Ms Gorton said it was “good to see NHS leaders acknowledging that working for the health service isn’t what it could be”.

“Holding on to staff is probably the biggest challenge facing the NHS,” she said.

“All workers across the health service need to know they’re valued and must be given the right training opportunities to use their skills and experience to move into more senior roles,” she added.

Though Ms Gorton warned that these “urgently needed” changes would not happen on their own.

“New funding must allow existing staff to develop their careers and a comprehensive and rewarding apprenticeship programme is needed to bring new recruits into the NHS,” she said.

Ms Gorton stated that work to find solutions to ensure that the NHS becomes a much better place to work was also encouraging.

“Holding on to staff is probably the biggest challenge facing the NHS”

Sara Gorton

The union leader also flagged the importance of staff shortages within social care, warning the issue should not be ignored.

She said: “Staffing shortages in social care also have a real impact on the ability of the NHS to look after those in need.

“Unless retention issues in care are addressed, the good work planned for the health service could come undone, so it’s vital the social care workforce isn’t ignored,” she added.