A new report from the Nuffield Trust, Health Foundation and The King's Fund has calculated that in order to avoid a staffing crisis, NHS recruitment and retention needs a further £900m per year of investment.
The report focusses nursing and general practice, where the workforce problems are "particularly severe".
The Closing the Gap report, released today, states: "The workforce challenges currently facing the health service pose a threat to the delivery and quality of care over the next 10 years. There are no silver bullets, but these are high-impact policy actions which, if properly funded and well implemented across the NHS would over time create a sustainable model for general practice and help to eliminate nursing shortages. They will require investment of an extra £900 million per year by 2023/24 into the budget of Health Education England."
It predicts that the nurse shortage will triple from around 30,000 at present to 108,000 in the next 10 years, and is calling for 5,000 more nurses to start training each year by 2021. Measures also need to be taken to reduce the drop-out rate from the profession and to encourage newly-qualified nurses to join the NHS.
Among the recommendations is the introduction of a £5,200 grant for living expenses to nurses in training, and covering the costs of tuition fees to help triple the number of nurses training as postgraduates. Around 5,000 nurses would still need to be recruited from abroad each year This is three times the current number and under serious threat from Brexit and a global shortage in nurse numbers, says the report.
In order to address GP shortages, the report recommends the development of multidisciplinary teams drawing on the skills of other health care professionals such as pharmacists and physiotherapists, and to create a “regulated profession of physician associates” to take the pressure of doctors. This major undertaking will require the recruitment of 6,000 physiotherapists.
Other recommendations are for £250m of the proposed £900m to be spent on developing workforce skills, initiatives to close gender and ethnic pay gaps in the NHS, and encouraging staff retention for example by letting those near retirement age transition to part-time work.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said:
“The workforce is the make or break issue for the health service and unless staffing shortages are substantially reduced the recent NHS long-term plan can only be a wish list.
“If the NHS is to have access to the skilled health workers it needs, the government must stop seeing funding for the workforce as a cost to be minimised and prioritise investment in training more staff.”