NHS People Plan promises are simple – but keeping them won’t be

Pledges in the interim plan need to be backed up with concrete action on staffing

The NHS return-to-practice campaign is part of the government’s plan to boost nurse
numbers. Picture: iStock

For a healthcare policy document, the NHS People Plan has a surprisingly pithy and direct title.

It also makes for simple reading with its explicit and laudable pledges to tackle nursing workforce shortages and make the NHS ‘the best place to work’.

However, like all such plans, these positive promises now need to be backed up with concrete action by government and health service leaders.

The People Plan is interim – ahead of a full five-year vision to be published later this year – and makes an ambitious 56 pledges for the remaining 18 months of 2019-20.

Overarching aim

Some of the work in this programme, which was drawn up in just three months, is already under way, such as preparations to launch the ‘new’ NHS return-to-practice campaign and expanding the nursing associate workforce.

What will be harder to achieve is leveraging these and other initiatives to meet the overarching aim – on which more detail is promised in the full plan – to reduce nurse vacancy rates in England by more than half to 5% by 2028.

The picture is complex. Our as yet uncertain departure from the European Union is already hitting the health service hard, with falling numbers of nurses from the EU on the UK register.

The reasons behind chronic recruitment and retention issues also need to be properly addressed – not just to relieve day-to-day pressures but also to support efforts to transform services. Our 2019 RCN Nurse of the Year Taurai Matare talks of the years of battles she faced to get the staff she needed to achieve an outstanding eye care service that now has no vacancies.

Meet the 2019 RCN Nurse of the Year

Held to account

To ensure that the pledges of the interim and final plan are met, trade unions and publications such as Nursing Standard must hold government agencies to account.

We track nursing student attrition rates every year, with the support of expert analysts at the Health Foundation, and note the plan’s pledge for an agreed definition of such rates to record and improve workforce planning.

This is one of the plan’s pledges that we promise to keep an eye on – you can hold us to account on that one too.

Further information