Staff Shortages – the biggest challenge facing the health service and the PCN plan.
The NHS long-term plan, published in January this year promises a 3.4% real terms annual increase in the NHS budget up until 2024. As welcome as that may be, in order to meet the rising demand, the staff shortages present a crisis that may well put the success of the plan in doubt.
The reality is that 1 in 11 posts* in the NHS has been vacant in the last 12 months (*NHS Improvement) and the problem is of particular concern in nursing and GP numbers. Given that the plan’s overriding objective is to improve the NHS offering, these staffing shortages need to be urgently addressed.
A combined report (Closing the gap) published by the Nuffield Trust, King’s Fund and the Health Foundation, suggests that an additional 250,000 staff will be needed if the long-term plan is to be fulfilled.
Perhaps of particular concern must be the decline in full-time GPs. Those working part-time and retiring early outweigh the slight increase in overall GP numbers. Equally concerning are the falls of 12% in mental health nurses and 15% of community nurses* between 2010 and 2018 (*BBC).
How can the staffing crisis be solved?
There is no doubt that the NHS needs a growing workforce to thrive and deliver its future plan. It has been stated that an extra 4366 GPs would need to be recruited by 2020 to meet the government’s promise made in 2015.
To support and relieve some of the pressure on GPs, the intention is to increase and widen members of the primary care team to include for example pharmacists and physiotherapists, leading to a more collaborative and team based approach. This has begun with the development and growth of integrated care systems (ICS) and will continue to develop looking at ways the NHS can improve its ways of working, maximising the breadth of skills across different services.
Training and international recruitment are 2 of the vital ingredients that need to be tackled; ensuring there are enough available staff, suitably trained and that the necessary recruitment of staff from overseas can continue despite the concerns over Brexit.
Furthermore, the NHS will also need to make the most of digital solutions, where they add value, which is also a key part of the long-term plan. Given the plans for healthcare providers to work more collaboratively, rota management software for example, will be of huge benefit in helping to make efficient use of staff, undoubtedly add value, and play a key role in the effective use of budget.
Chances of success?
The long-term plan has broadly been welcomed and the promised funding is an improvement on recent years, but there are clearly huge constraints. It will demand strong and sustained leadership to succeed and a huge concerted effort to attract and keep the staff it so desperately needs. The key is to act now.
We are working hard on our product, with organisations looking to ease pressure on their GP’s, maximise and utilise other resource and in doing so find short and long-term solutions. You can discuss your options in a little more detail with our experienced commercial team.