The NHS is facing a staffing shortfall of almost 250,000 by 2030, says a new report published today by The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust.
The briefing, entitled The health care workforce in England: make or break? draws on a new forecast of the staffing gaps emerging in the 1.2 million-strong NHS workforce. It predicts an increase in NHS staff shortages from over 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030, warning that this could mean that over one in six health service posts are short of an appropriate staff member by the end of the next decade.
The three organisations warn that these shortages could be over 350,000 if the NHS continues to lose staff and cannot attract skilled workers from abroad. These shortages in the healthcare workforce mean that the forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan risks becoming an unachievable ‘wish list’ of initiatives to improve the health service. If unaddressed, these shortages could lead to growing waiting lists, deteriorating care quality and the risk that some of the money for frontline services pledged at the Budget will go unspent, according to the new briefing.
The briefing comes as NHS leaders are poised to publish their blueprint of how the health service can adapt to the next 10 years in response to the £20.5bn funding boost confirmed by the Chancellor at the Budget last month. It warns that even before this funding increase was pledged, the NHS could not recruit the staff it needed because of an incoherent approach to workforce policy at a national level, poor workforce planning, restrictive immigration policies and inadequate funding for training places. Funding for education and training dropped from 5 per cent of health spending in 2006/7 to 3 per cent in 2018/19, the equivalent of a £2bn drop.
Now, with worryingly high numbers of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs before retirement, and training budgets among those facing potential cuts following the Budget, the report says that the health service is reaching a tipping point. Unless new staff can quickly be recruited and trained, the NHS simply will not have the workers available to meet the demand for healthcare expected over the next decade, exacerbating recruitment and retention problems. This will mean that even with the extra money to commission frontline services, healthcare providers will not have the staff to deliver them.
The report also highlights the equally pressing problems in the social care workforce, which too is hampered by substantial staffing shortages and is especially vulnerable to plans to cut off so-called ‘low-skilled’ migration. The three organisations argue that the ‘critical interdependence’ of the two sectors means that any attempt to tackle one area must be accompanied by plans to address workforce problems in the other.
Responding to the report, Scott Sinclair, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, England at the terminal Illness charity Marie Curie said:
“Today’s briefing highlights the very real threat that the NHS will not be able to meet future demand and that quality of care will suffer. Already, people at the end of their lives miss out on the care and support they need. With the numbers of people dying each year steadily rising, it is likely that continued staff shortages will mean more people at the end of their lives receiving insufficient care, creating distressing situations that have long-term mental health impacts on families and carers.
“The health and social care workforce is passionate and capable, but needs the numbers to tackle increasing demand. The Government urgently needs to get serious about the long-term challenges facing the health and social care system. At the present moment, it appears completely unprepared for the scale of demand that will face the NHS in the coming years.”
Carole Walford, Hospice UK’s Chief Clinical Officer commented:
“As this briefing highlights, NHS staff shortages look set to reach critical levels over the next decade. This is really concerning especially as demand for care is growing for people with life-limiting conditions and could mean that people miss out on the vital care they need, or lead them receiving lower quality care.
“Hospices are also facing their own workforce challenges, especially around recruitment and retention of staff. Tackling hospice workforce pressures is a key priority for Hospice UK and we are working with hospices and partner organisations to develop sustainable solutions to address these.”
The briefing forms part of a longer research report on the health and social care workforce, exploring policy solutions to the problems identified. This will be published in the coming weeks.
For more information visit The health care workforce in England: make or break?