Chronic staffing shortage could jeopardise NHS long-term plan, say leading think tanks

Joint report points to acute problems in the supply of nurses

Joint report points to acute problems in the supply of nurses

Picture: Daniel Mitchell

A predicted shortfall of 250,000 staff by 2030 could be a major risk to the NHS Long Term Plan, a report by three leading health think tanks states.

The briefing paper by the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust says one of the greatest challenges lies in nursing, with one in eight posts vacant and 36,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS in England.

Turnover data is causing concern

There are worrying increases in the number of nurses leaving the NHS, particularly at younger ages, the report The health care workforce in England: make or break? states.

It finds:

  • 5,000 more nurses left the NHS in 2016/17 than in 2011/12.
  • 1,584 more EU nurses and health visitors left their roles in the NHS than joined between July 2017 and July 2018.

The report cites the loss of the nursing bursary and the declining number of applicants to nursing courses, with the biggest fall on record – 11,750 – between 2016 and 2017.

‘The anticipated expansion in the nursing training pipeline of 10,000 additional nurses has not materialised,’ the report adds.

RCN acting general secretary Donna Kinnair said: ‘If the NHS ten-year plan is to be genuinely forward-looking and more than a wish list, the nursing shortage must be addressed.

‘In this report, experts from three leading health organisations echo our call for a properly-funded workforce plan that responds to population need and is underpinned by legislation that holds decision-makers to account for safe and effective staffing levels. This must be drawn up urgently.’

Factors influencing staff shortages

The report authors state current shortages of more than 100,000 NHS staff are caused by a number of factors, including fragmentation of responsibility for workforce issues at a national level; poor workforce planning; cuts in funding for education training places, and restrictive immigration policies exacerbated by Brexit.

List of actions

Five things the NHS long-term plan must do, according to the report authors

  • Address the immediate workforce shortages
  • Deliver a sustainable workforce over the next 10 years
  • Support new ways of working across the health and social care workforce
  • Address inequalities in recruitment, pay and career progression
  • Strengthen workforce and health service planning


A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Workforce planning will be at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, supporting our drive to expand the medical, nursing and midwifery workforces by 25% and ensuring our record numbers of staff get the support they need to deliver excellent, safe care for patients.’

Click here to read the report

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