Ambitious goals in NHS workforce plan must match reality

Billy Palmer responds to the National Audit Office report on NHS England’s modelling for the Long-Term Workforce Plan.

Press release

Published: 22/03/2024

Responding to the National Audit Office report, NHS England’s modelling for the Long-Term Workforce Plan, Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow Dr Billy Palmer said:

“The absence of a long-term workforce plan for the NHS was a serious omission for far too long and its introduction was warmly welcomed. Longer-term planning for the mix of staffing that the NHS needs for the future is critical to putting services back on a sustainable footing, but for it to be a success it must be based on credible modelling. It is proper that the assumptions underpinning this plan have been scrutinised and the weaknesses identified must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“The assumption on productivity gains, which equate to around 200,000 staff by 2036/37, always looked overly optimistic given current trends which indicate falling productivity – this report provides further evidence to that effect.

“We are also concerned about the ability of a health service, which is already running hot and struggling to meet the backlog of care, to find the staff and time needed to deliver the increased levels of training and supervision required. The NAO confirms that this ambition looks at the very limit of what was thought possible – so the NHS needs to urgently take stock and work out a strategy on how to deliver sufficient education and training.

“The expectation that general practice will continue the recent trend of shifting a higher proportion of care away from fully qualified GPs and onto those in training or other staff groups is contentious and would need to be very carefully managed if appropriate supervision is to be provided.

“There is no single route to overcoming the staffing needs our growing health and care services need. The workforce plan was rapidly produced, and this report makes it clear that further work is needed by national bodies to ensure the ambitious goals within this landmark plan match reality.”

Notes to editors

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