Healthcare training plan to include apprenticeships for doctors to address staff shortages.
England's healthcare sector is set to witness a significant expansion in training opportunities for health professionals as part of a comprehensive 15-year plan aimed at addressing staffing shortages within the National Health Service (NHS). The plan, which has been described as "historic," entails the creation of additional university positions for medical and nursing students, with a particular emphasis on apprenticeships, including the first-ever scheme for doctors.
Furthermore, a consultation will be launched to explore the possibility of shortening the duration of five-year medical degrees. Although the plan's release has been delayed by over a year, its focus is primarily on increasing the number of training places rather than addressing pay concerns, which have been a significant point of contention, leading to strikes within the NHS.
Presently, the UK struggles to meet the demand for healthcare professionals, resulting in half of all new doctors and nurses having to be recruited from abroad. With over 110,000 vacancies, equivalent to one in every ten positions, remaining unfilled, the plan warns that this figure could surge to 360,000 by 2037 based on projections. On Friday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard will officially announce the plan, alongside a government commitment of £2.4 billion over the next five years to aid its implementation. Pritchard views the plan as a watershed moment for the NHS, offering a unique opportunity to establish a sustainable staffing structure for the future, while Sunak regards it as one of his most significant commitments as prime minister.
The plan sets forth ambitious targets for 2031, including a doubling of medical school places for student doctors to 15,000 annually, a 50% increase in general practitioner (GP) trainee positions for junior doctors, and an additional 24,000 student places for nurses and midwives each year, nearly doubling the current number. Over the next five years, the proportion of NHS staff trained through apprenticeships, which involve combining paid work and study without tuition fees, will double to one in every six positions, encompassing physiotherapists, podiatrists, and maternity staff. Additionally, an apprenticeship program for doctors will be launched the following year, offering a few hundred places.
While the NHS England medical director, Stephen Powis, believes that the plan is "doable," he acknowledges the challenges it poses for the entire healthcare system. Regarding financial backing from the government, Powis asserts that the plan outlines the NHS's clear ambitions over 15 years, extending beyond the initial £2.4 billion commitment. Health Secretary Steve Barclay asserts that the plan provides hope for the long-term future of the healthcare system, acknowledging that some benefits may not be immediately apparent to patients. However, he assures that reforms and measures to improve staff retention will yield results relatively quickly.
The plan has been positively received by many within the health service, with Matthew Taylor of the NHS Confederation, representing health trusts, commending its bold and ambitious nature. He emphasises the need for a similar commitment to address workforce shortages in social care. However, some experts caution that the drive to increase training places could be undermined by a lack of frontline placements, as half of a nursing student's degree is spent working in the NHS. Moreover, the expansion's impact on current staffing shortages is expected to take several years, as it requires five years to complete a medical degree and three years for a nursing degree.
One of the challenges lies in ensuring a sufficient number of individuals are interested in pursuing healthcare careers. While medical degrees are oversubscribed, nursing degree applications have been declining due to the perceived cost of living crisis. Additionally, retaining existing staff poses a significant hurdle, as nurses are leaving the NHS at a rate comparable to new recruits joining. The plan lacks specific details on how this issue will be addressed, with pay being a crucial factor in staff retention. Future pay awards will depend on the NHS budget size and prevailing inflation rates. Consequently, the plan's £2.4 billion commitment to training, while welcomed, is not sufficient on its own to ensure success.
Dr. Billy Palmer from the Nuffield Trust think tank acknowledges the importance of the plan's release but highlights the years of drift that preceded it. He warns that the current challenging conditions within the NHS could undermine efforts to tackle long-term staffing shortages by potentially overburdening an increasing number of healthcare trainees. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting commends the government for heeding Labour's advice, claiming that the opposition's plan was adopted. However, he also criticises the lack of a workforce plan over the past 13 years, emphasising its impact on the current understaffing issues faced by the NHS.
The Office Apprentice