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Next prime minister needs to support leaders in tackling NHS workforce shortages, warns think-tank


By Valeria Fiore
Reporter
8 July 2019

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The next prime minister should ‘stand ready’ to support health and social care leaders to respond to workforce pressures, The King’s Fund chief executive has said.

In an open letter to Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson – the final two candidates in the race to become the next prime minister – Richard Murray outlines three issues that any Government that wants to improve the nation’s health needs to prioritise.

Action is needed to address the problems relating to the current workforce crisis, Mr Murray argues, adding that workers in the healthcare sector are ‘working under enormous strain’ because the NHS is struggling ‘to recruit, train and retain enough staff’.

He said that healthcare leaders are already trying to respond to these workforce pressures but without urgent action from the Government, they won’t be able to deliver the long-term plan.

To address workforce issues in the short-term, the Government should support an immigration system that ‘can meet the needs of health and social care’, such as making it easier to recruit health and care staff from abroad, Mr Murray said. This will help with recruiting staff from overseas, including 5,000 nurses a year.

He added that more staff needs to be trained domestically to build a sustainable workforce. This could be achieved, Mr Murray argues, by allocating more funding to healthcare training in the Spending Review or shifting ‘resources from other health budgets’, although this could have consequences on other services.

Mr Murray said: ‘Analysis suggests current shortages of more than 100,000 staff across NHS trusts are set to increase unless action is taken. These shortages intensify pressures for the staff who remain, creating a vicious cycle of stress, pressure and further retention problems.

‘Without urgent action, the aspirations of the NHS long-term plan will not be met, and quality of care will deteriorate.’

An interim version of the NHS workforce implementation plan, published in June, revealed that integrated care systems (ICSs) will take on greater responsibility for local workforce planning as workforce priorities are specific to each area.

In his letter, Mr Murray outlined the need to reform social care and improve public health and prevention, as ‘life expectancy [is] flatlining and health inequalities [are] widening’.

Brexit is an added challenge to delivering these three priorities, said Mr Murray, and ‘all due diligence will be needed to ensure that essential NHS services are on a secure footing, especially in the case of a no-deal Brexit’.

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