The highly anticipated NHS Long Term Workforce plan will see the NHS almost double the number of adult nurses training places, promising an extra 24,000 nurses and midwives a year by 2031.
To be published by the NHS on Friday (30 June) and backed by the government, the workforce plan will include measures to increase training and degree places, while also addressing issues of retention.
Over the next five years, the NHS plans to increase the number of nursing degrees by more than a third alongside a 40% increase in the number of nursing associate training places, according to NHS England.
Additionally, student nurses will soon be able to take up jobs as early as May after they graduate under the plan’s proposals, rather than waiting until September.
NHS England said that this will ensure that more nurses reach the frontline and are treating patients more quickly.
The plan also includes a commitment to increasing the number of training placements available through apprenticeships so that the NHS can ‘draw on the widest pool of talent’.
Under the new plans, one in six clinical staff will be trained through apprenticeships, NHS England has said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the plan ‘the largest single expansion in NHS education and training in its history,’ in a statement ahead of its publication. ‘This is a plan for investment and a plan for reform.’
Mr Sunak added that the NHS would ‘do more to retain our brilliant NHS staff and reform the way the health system works to ensure it is fit for the future.’
The NHS workforce plan, which has been delayed several times since chancellor Jeremy Hunt committed to its publication in November 2022, will be released against a background of severe staff shortages within the NHS.
While the NHS is currently on track to meet the 50,000 by 2024 promised by the government, much of this increase been driven by a spike in international recruitment, while vacancy rates remains high at just under 10% with 40,000 nursing posts vacant.
Retention also remains a key issue for the nursing workforce, with burnout and exhaustion playing a decisive factor in increasing turnover rate.
Recent data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed that physical and mental illness, followed by burnout were the most common reasons for leaving the register after retirement.
Likewise, rates of absence due to sickness hit record levels in 2022, almost 30% higher than pre-pandemic levels with six million days lost due to anxiety, stress and burnout.
The NHS Workforce Plan is expected to include retention measures, however details have not been released at this moment.
However, with the implementation of these retention measures NHS England estimates that there could be more than 170,000 more nurses in place by 2036-7.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said that the publication of the report was to be a ‘truly historic day for the NHS’ and that the plan would provide a ‘once in a generation opportunity to put staffing on sustainable footing for the years to come’.
Ms Pritchard said: ‘As we look to adapt to new and rising demand for health services globally, this long-term blueprint is the first step in a major and much-needed expansion of our workforce to ensure we have the staff we need to deliver for patients.
‘We will take practical and sustained action to retain existing talent, we will recruit and train hundreds of thousands more people and continue to accelerate the adoption of the latest technology to give our amazing workforce the very best tools to provide high-quality care to millions of people across the country each day.’
Commenting ahead of the plan’s release, Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: ‘The release of this plan must mark a moment where all players begin to shift to discussing meaningful and long-term solutions before the staff shortages bite even harder.
‘Regular reviews will ensure its relevance and will prevent the plan from gathering dust on a shelf.’
She added that nursing leaders ‘eagerly await the full details and we all expect the plan to address a number of things crucial to our profession’.
Ms Cullen stressed she also wanted to ‘see detailed plans to keep the experienced staff needed to make any proposals work, and how it intends to make nursing an attractive profession to join’.
‘The plan must not forget that effective ways to attract people into the profession is to pay staff fairly and demonstrate there are options for career progression,’ she added.
In reference to nurse training places, Ms Cullen said the proposals in the plan should ensure nursing students ‘are not landed with huge and off-putting debt’.
‘All student nurses must have the support they need from experienced staff for a positive learning experience,’ she added.