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‘Once in a generation’ workforce plan promises 300,000 more NHS clinicians by 2036

Published on: 30 Jun 2023

The NHS will be funded to undertake the ‘biggest recruitment drive in health service history’, the government has pledged.

The long-awaited NHS Workforce Plan will be be published in full tomorrow. 

A press release summarising the plan said there would be an “immediate boost” in training numbers, with “half a million trainees” beginning clinical training by 2028. This number will increase “by over 60% by 2031”, claims the government.

The government predicts the number of adult nurse training places will double to 50,000 by 2031, while the number of GP training places will rise by 50 per cent to around 6,000. Medical school places will be doubled to reach 15,000 – most of the new capacity coming in areas with the greatest shortages of doctors.

By 2036-37, the government says the NHS will have 60,000 extra doctors, 170,000 more nurses and 71,000 more allied health professionals. This, it claims, will contribute to cutting “expensive” agency spend by £10bn between 2030-31 and 2036-37.

The press release says these ambitions to grow the NHS workforce will be backed by “over £2.4 billion… over five years on top of existing funding commitments” – around 12 per cent of current NHS spending on education and training. HSJ understands the funding will be provided by the Treasury in addition to the existing Department of Health and Social Care education and training budget.

The workforce plan will be refreshed every two years “to help meet future requirements”. This is similar to the failed amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill put forward by then Commons health committee chair – now chancellor – Jeremy Hunt.

1 in 6 clinical staff trained via apprenticeships

The press release, which contains scant detail about the plan, also says more training places will be offered through “degree apprenticeships” so staff can “earn while they learn”. It states one in six clinical staff will be trained through apprenticeships by 2028. However, there is no mention of how the apprenticeship model will be reformed to deliver this promise. The apprenticeship scheme’s lack of flexibility has often been criticised by trust leaders and uptake in the NHS has been historically poor.

The plan will also see a 40 per cent increase in nursing associate training places over five years, with increases in “other associate roles”, which will “free up other clinical colleagues”.

The government announcement also reiterates plans to consult on the introduction of four-year medical degrees and “medical internships”.

As well as recruiting more staff, the plan will set out “better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working options, and points to existing government reforms to the pension scheme, which it predicts will see “130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer”.

Other measures mentioned include:

  • “Trainees” being sent to work on wards and in practices sooner, for example student nurses starting work in May each year rather than waiting until September
  • Training for 150 additional advanced paramedics per year
  • Expanded training places for clinical psychology and child and adolescent psychotherapy

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, described the plan as a “once in a generation opportunity to put staffing on a sustainable footing”.

Ms Pritchard said: “We will take practical and sustained action to retain existing talent, we will recruit and train hundreds of thousands more people and continue to accelerate the adoption of the latest technology to give our amazing workforce the very best tools to provide high-quality care to millions of people across the country each day.”

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said the plan was backed by “significant government investment” that would “further boost our drive to cut waiting lists” and Rishi Sunak said it would be “one of the most significant commitments I will make as prime minister”.