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The Interim NHS People Plan: A step towards solving the NHS staffing crisis?

On 3 June 2019, the NHS published the Interim People Plan. The plan, developed in partnership with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, lays out the proposals for the future of the NHS workforce and is said to be the beginning of ‘a new way of working’. It follows the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January of this year, which sets out a 10-year plan for healthcare in England.

The Interim People Plan is structured into the following inter-linked themes:

  1.  Making the NHS the best place to work
  2.  Improving leadership culture
  3.  Addressing urgent workforce shortages in nursing
  4.  Delivering 21st century care
  5.  A new operating model for the workforce

A large amount of commentary surrounding the plan unsurprisingly relates to the section entitled ‘Tackling the nursing challenge’. This section of the plan lays out the steps which the NHS aims to take in order to address the current workforce shortages in nursing.

Undoubtedly, the staffing crisis is the single greatest challenge currently facing the NHS. The Interim People Plan notes that there are shortages across a wide range of groups including GPs, psychiatrists, paramedics and dentists. Despite widespread staffing issues, the plan states that the NHS’ most urgent staffing challenge is the nursing shortage.

There are around 40,000 vacant nursing posts which the NHS aims to fill over the next five years. The NHS recognises that the most effective way to increase the number of nurses is to increase undergraduate supply. Between 2016 and 2018, applications for nursing and midwifery courses fell by 31%. The NHS therefore aims to shift perceptions of working as a nurse in order to increase undergraduate demand for nursing courses in England. One of the ways in which the NHS is already taking steps towards achieving this goal is through the implementation programmes, such as ‘Transforming Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery’, which actively promote the realities of a career in modern nursing within schools and across communities.

In order to boost numbers further, the NHS acknowledges that they must also focus on encouraging skilled nurses, who have previously left the NHS, to return to practice. One out of eleven staff members leave the service every year. Notably, many members of staff feel overstretched due to long working hours and the low staff to patient ratio. As a result, employees are often harassed and bullied by frustrated patients who believe they should be getting a better service. Difficulties in achieving a healthy work-life balance does not only lead to poor retention rates across the entire service, but also increases sickness absence which is strikingly 2.3% higher across the NHS in comparison to any other workforce.

It is clear that addressing the staffing crisis goes hand-in-hand with making the NHS a better place to work. The Interim People Plan highlights that the NHS must improve the overall employee experience in order to increase retention rates and attract more people to the workforce. The NHS therefore aims to carry out extensive engagement with staff, union representatives and individual employers in order to develop a healthy, inclusive and compassionate culture.

Indeed, a lot more work is required in order to flesh out the current plan. The NHS does not intend to dawdle, however, stating that immediate action must be taken in order to implement the proposals. The aim is to publish a costed five-year plan (which will provide more detail in relation to how the proposals are to be achieved) following the government’s next spending review.

Naturally, not everyone is confident that the NHS will be able to deliver the proposals outlined within the plan. Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jonathan Ashworth, claims that the NHS is "ducking the big challenges" and that the bursary for nursing students should be restored. Of course, reinstating the bursary for nursing and midwifery would work as an incentive for more students to enrol on these courses, particularly as undergraduates on healthcare related courses often work around 30 hours a week as part of their studies. Nevertheless, the Interim People Plan serves as public recognition of NHS failures and, therefore, may be the first step towards making a real change.

 

 

 

 

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