NHS Interim People Plan: More investment needed

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While the plans have been welcomed greater investment is needed to improve the recruitment and retention of nurses say experts

The NHS has published its Interim People Plan, laying out plans for the future of its workforce.

The proposals – developed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, NHS managers and staff unions – include a new leadership development framework, improved flexible working options, and more flexibility on how pension contributions are accrued.

It is hoped that the new plan will encourage a positive agile working culture, the NHS stated. The report acknowledged that health workers want more flexible careers and better work/life balance, as well as more efficient ways of working to meet the growing demands on the sector.

The NHS will also commission an independent review of its HR and OD practices and look at how to bring these in line 'with the best of the public and private sectors'.

The aim is to publish a more detailed five-year NHS workforce plan after the government’s next spending review, which will establish how much budget is available.

NHS England also intends to develop an employee ‘offer’ that will set out what support workers can expect 'from the NHS as a modern employer'. This will be created off the back of engagement with staff, union representatives and individual employers across England.

The report revealed there are approximately 40,000 nursing vacancies in hospitals and health services across the UK, with the majority (80%) of these covered by agency staff at present.

To address these shortages the NHS said it will increase the number of people coming into nursing and midwifery degrees, as well as expand clinical placements to offer training and experience for these recruits.

Recruitment campaigns will focus on areas with the greatest need, including a new push to attract returners to nursing through parenting website Mumsnet. NHS England will continue to recruit internationally, and will develop a national procurement framework for international recruitment agencies.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, welcomed the report but said that there needs to be greater investment to encourage more people to become nurses. “This is a further step forward following last year’s significant investment in pay for our teams, and brings greater focus to the issues that must be addressed in relation to our workforce," he said.

"However, investment is required to incentivise more people to train to be nurses either through undergraduate or apprenticeship routes: employers look forward to this investment for the final plan later this year."

Mortimer added that there would be no quick fixes for the issues facing the NHS: “Given the scale of the workforce challenge there are going to be no easy solutions to recruitment and retention problems in the health service. But today’s interim report represents a step in the right direction, and we are pleased to have been invited to take part in the advisory group for the final NHS People Plan to ensure that it meets the needs of tomorrow’s patients.”

Nicky Ingham, executive director of HPMA, welcomed the report's recommendations, adding that there should now be more investment in HR and OD professionals. “We are pleased to see the publication of the NHS Interim People Plan. The NHS HR community have been highlighting the NHS workforce crisis for some time and feel they have been running on the spot. It is particularly pleasing to see a plan that not only emphasises investment in nursing and new roles but recognises the significant cultural and leadership challenges we face,” she said.

“We now need to see the long-awaited investment in our NHS HR and OD professionals that we have been calling for to ensure we can accelerate delivery of the ambitions in the plan. Getting this right will be good for staff and good for patients."

Chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network David Hare, said that he welcomed the expanded role of the private sector in recruitment going forwards.

“With more than 100,000 people employed in the sector, independent providers are ready and able to help improve both recruitment and retention in the health service," he said. "Many independent sector providers are looking to expand the number of clinical placements they provide, which will play a significant role in helping support the Plan’s commitment to increase the number of undergraduates studying nursing.”

He added that improving culture should be a priority: “Leadership and culture are also rightly highlighted as areas where improvements need to be made to improve both staff retention and, most importantly, patient care.”

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