The NHS in England will be short of 44,000 community nurses within the next 15 years unless ‘radical action’ is taken, reports of a leaked version of the long-awaited workforce plan has suggested.
According to a report in The Guardian this morning, NHS England’s workforce plan will be ‘published shortly’ and will set out ‘detailed proposals’ to address understaffing across the health service, including the need for a 77% increase in the ‘annual supply’ of nurses.
The plan, which is reportedly being ‘examined by ministers’, is expected to highlight that the health service is already operating with 154,000 fewer staff than necessary and that this could rise to 571,000 by 2036 based on current trends.
The internal document, which was leaked to The Guardian, also suggests that within 15 years the NHS in England will have 44,000 fewer community nurses and 28,000 fewer GPs unless ‘radical action’ is taken.
Concerningly, the plan is understood to claim that services in rural areas, which already struggle with staffing, would be ‘left unable’ to give patients the help and treatment they need, The Guardian reported.
It also understood that the plan draws attention to the recent increase in international recruitment and will state that this ‘does not offer a universal solution to rising workforce demand’.
Meanwhile, concerns about a reliance on bank and agency staffing will also be flagged, according to the newspaper.
The plan seen by the Guardian suggested the number of newly trained nurses each year must increase from 29,865 to 52,722 (77%) and that the number of trainee GPs needs to rise from 4,000 to 6,000, it added.
Overall, the document states the NHS must increase its number of health professionals it trains each year by 55%.
RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: ‘Any workforce plan, when it is published, must contain a fully funded strategy for ending the crisis in nursing. This must include plans to end the over-reliance of overseas staff to close the gap in the domestic workforce.
‘Health and care services are facing unsustainable pressures and patient care is at risk, yet there has been a long-term failure to provide the investment grow the nursing workforce.
‘We have continued signals that the report will be published but it is yet to be seen. If ministers are serious about the recovery of health and care they must publish the plan to give nursing and patients the assurances they need.’
But The Guardian also reported that chancellor Jeremy Hunt is ‘playing a key role in behind-the-scenes moves by the Treasury’ to water down NHS England’s proposals to increase the number of nurses trained each year.
This is despite Mr Hunt’s support of a massive expansion of the NHS workforce and funding during his time as the chair of the health and social care select committee.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said this information was ‘a leak’.
‘Cutting NHS waiting times is one of the government’s top five priorities, backed by record funding including up to £14.1 billion for health and social care over the next two years,’ added the spokesperson.
‘At the same time, we’re growing the health care workforce – recruiting 50,000 more nurses and we have almost hit our target of delivering 26,000 additional primary care staff.
‘The NHS will soon publish a long-term workforce plan to support and grow the workforce.’