Britain’s National Health Service is seeking to address its staff shortage crisis with a plan that involves the biggest boost in training for a generation and thousands of apprentice doctors being fast-tracked to the frontline.
The workforce plan, due to be published next month, will warn that the treasured public health service, known as the NHS, will soon be short of more than half a million staff, according to a report in The Times newspaper.
Without action, staff shortages will increase more than four times over the next 15 years as the population ages, the plan is reported to warn.
The long-awaited workforce blueprint is expected to bring in “radical changes” to how the public service recruits frontline staff. Currently, the NHS is said to have a staff vacancy rate of 10 percent, or 133,000 positions.
The plan is reported to conclude that a “huge expansion of training will be needed to fix staff shortages, with both medical school places and adult nursing places having to double by the end of the decade”.
The Times said health chiefs face a battle with the government for the “significant investment” required in training, noting that the UK finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, has consistently said there is no extra funding for new medical schools.
A BBC report noted that the NHS is currently forced to cope with gaps in shift work schedules by hiring temporary agency staff. NHS England was reported to have spent 3 billion pounds ($3.6 billion) on such agency workers last year, which was a 20-percent rise on the year before.
The Times said the plan’s imminent publication will put pressure on government ministers to resolve ongoing disputes about staff pay, following strikes announced by nurses, ambulance workers and junior doctors.
News website The Independent reported that record levels of NHS staff are seeking mental health help as they struggle to cope with the pressure. Medics have warned that the “crisis” facing workers is “worse than the pandemic”.
Sky News reported that public support for the government’s management of the NHS in England has fallen to a new low.
A survey of more than 2,000 people, conducted by Ipsos and the Health Foundation, revealed that only 8 percent thought the government had appropriate plans for the NHS.
Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “These findings should be ringing alarm bells in Number 10 (Downing Street). This is a very low level of public confidence in the government’s handling of the health service and it’s quite clear that people are very concerned at the current state of the health service.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’re building a sustainable NHS with patients at its center — backed by up to 14.1 billion pounds for health and social care over the next two years, on top of record funding.”