LONDON: Britain set out today a new workforce hiring plan for England’s state-run National Health Service (NHS), seeking to tackle staff shortages that have exposed the system to huge pressures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A beloved institution at the centre of Britain’s post-war national identity, the NHS has endured a winter of crisis, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting patient waiting lists one of his five priorities for the year.
“This government is making the largest single expansion in NHS education and training in its history,” Sunak said in a statement.
“This is a plan for investment and a plan for reform.”
The NHS has about 112,000 vacancies, a gap that could more than triple by 2037 without action, the health service said in the statement, outlining £2.4 billion of government investment over five years.
By 2031, the NHS aims to double medical school training places to 15,000, increase by 50% the number of doctor training places and nearly double the number of adult nurse training places.
After the Covid pandemic, when NHS staff were applauded for their work treating the sick, doctors and nurses have been striking over poor pay amid discontent over inadequate staffing that many say hinders their ability to do their jobs.
The workforce plan tries to address some of those problems after a winter crisis caused by backlogs in treatment following the pandemic, staff absences, and delays in discharging patients, resulting in ambulances queuing outside hospitals.
Alongside other staff retention measures, the plan will help give the NHS an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 nurses and 71,000 allied health professionals by 2036/37, it said.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard welcomed “a once in a generation opportunity to put staffing on sustainable footing for the years to come”.
Sunak has acknowledged that overall waiting lists for treatment will continue to rise into the second half of 2023, though he has said the number of people waiting more than 18 months for treatment had fallen, and ambulance response times had also improved.
The plan was welcomed by politicians and health experts, with Richard Murray, head of the King’s Fund health policy charity saying it could prove a “landmark moment” but a sister scheme was needed for the broader social care sector.
“A national focus on training, and reform, with some initial financial commitment from government to back the plan, should start to place the NHS workforce on a sustainable footing,” he said.
The opposition Labour Party welcomed the proposals but said they should have been delivered a decade ago.