“More staff not enough – NHS must also be best place to work” says new NHS people plan

As well as growing staff numbers, the NHS needs to rapidly become a much better place to work says the new Interim NHS People Plan, launched to address the once in a generation workforce challenges the service is currently facing.

The interim report, developed collaboratively with a broad range of partners from across the NHS, including NHS managers, NHS staff unions, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing, and the British Medical Association, argues that, in addition to recruiting extra staff, much more needs to be done to improve staff retention and transform ways of working.

The interim plan sets out a long term strategy to achieve this, agreed across the entire NHS for the first time. It also confirms a number of immediate actions, with more to follow once the forthcoming Spending Review has confirmed future NHS education and training budgets.

The plan focuses on three key areas – recruiting more staff; making the NHS a great place to work; and equipping the NHS to meet the challenges of 21st century healthcare. It sets out:

How the NHS will rapidly increase the number of NHS staff, deliberately starting with the nursing workforce where the current vacancy pressure is greatest. The plan sets out how the NHS will:

  • Immediately increase the number of undergraduates studying nursing with an offer to universities of more than 5,700 extra hospital and community placements for student nurses this year
  • Rapidly expand the number of staff in recently created new roles including increasing the number of nursing associates to 7,500, offering a career route from healthcare support work to registered nursing
  • Launch a new campaign, in conjunction with Mumsnet, to inspire more nurses to return to the NHS
  • Quickly grow the number of nurses and doctors recruited from overseas via a new approach that will agree national “lead recruiter” agencies with the expertise to support the local NHS with international recruitment.

How to make the NHS “the best place to work”, addressing current concerns from frontline staff on the pressures they face, and improving retention rates. The plan sets out how the NHS will:

  • Rapidly address current pensions issues which are discouraging experienced doctors and nurses from doing extra work for patients and causing them to think hard about remaining in the NHS
  • Conduct a major staff engagement exercise this summer, led by new Chief People Officer, Prerana Issar, to create an explicit offer to staff covering issues they say matter to them for example, access to flexible working, career development and the best possible support from line managers.
  • Ensure more support and development for frontline NHS managers, from ward to board, including the development of a new leadership compact covering the standards and behaviours leaders can expect of each other and a doubling of the size of the NHS Graduate Trainee scheme.

How to equip staff and NHS frontline organisations to provide 21st century healthcare including the need to join up health and care and take advantage of digital technology, genomics and other innovations. The plans sets out how the NHS will:

  • Devolve significant responsibilities for workforce planning to the emerging integrated care systems.
  • Develop new models of multi-disciplinary working to support the Long Term Plan’s ambition to integrate primary and secondary care.
  • Launch a national consultation exercise to establish what the NHS, patients and the public require from 21st century medical graduates.
  • Expand the NHS Digital Academy, deliver intensive digital skills training for boards and senior leaders, and develop the pipeline of digital experts in the NHS to support the Long Term Plan’s drive to fully harness digital technology.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the Interim People plan at East London NHS Foundation trust, Chair of NHS Improvement Dido Harding said: “We haven’t waited for this plan to be published. Practical action has already started.  NHS trusts have already identified over 5,500 extra clinical placements for undergraduate nurses, which put us on track to expand nurse undergraduate places by 25% in September.”

“The NHS is its people. This plan clearly acknowledges the workforce challenges the service faces. I want frontline NHS staff to know that we have heard their concerns about the pressures they face and we are determined to address them. The NHS needs more staff to meet the ambitions for patients set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. But that, on its own, is not enough. We need to change the way people work in the NHS to recognise the changing needs of patients and to create a modern, caring and exciting workplace that should be the best place to work in England. This will take time but this interim plan sets out a clear direction of travel and commits to the immediate actions available to us.”