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June 2019

Nurse shortages the most ‘urgent challege’

An interim plan to address staff shortages and working conditions in the NHS says the most urgent challenge is the current shortage of nurses.

The interim ‘NHS People Plan’ sets out key actions for the short and medium term to build the nursing workforce the NHS needs to deliver the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

‘We must act now to support and retain our existing nurses, significantly increase the number of newly qualified nurses joining the NHS, bring in nurses from abroad and ensure we make the most of the nurses we already have,’ the plan says.

The interim plan says there are vacancies in all areas of nursing with the most significant shortages in primary and community care as well as mental health and learning disability nursing.

It says: ‘We have focused on defining the vision for working in the NHS and on setting out the urgent actions we need to take in the coming year. We must do more to put the people who provide care at the heart of our NHS. To do that, we must put workforce planning at the centre of our overall planning.’

The plan aims to deliver a ‘domestically grown’ nursing workforce by:

  • Increasing supply through undergraduate nursing degree courses and reducing attrition from training
  • Providing clear pathways into the profession and further developing additional entry routes
  • Improving retention of the existing nursing workforce
  • Supporting more nurses to return to practice
  • Ensuring that any nurses wishing to increase their part-time working hours are able to do so
  • Providing support for nurses to develop their careers and skills

However, given the lead times for training new nurses, the plan says ‘we also need to increase international recruitment to increase supply rapidly.’

The intention is to grow the number of nurses by over 40,000 by 2024, to keep pace with rising demand and bring down vacancy rates.

Immediate actions will include improving retention of current nurses, by extending the existing retention programme into general practice, in addition to incentives to support entry to and return to general practice nursing.

To tackle falling intake to university courses, from September this year the number of clinical placements will be expanded by 25% (5,000), with additional clinical placement capacity in primary care settings.

A full five-year People Plan will follow this interim report – which sets out immediate actions to be taken in the coming year – after the government’s next Spending Review when the amount of investment available for education and training will be made known.

NHS. Interim NHS People Plan, 3 June 2019.