Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS staff shortages could reach 250 000 by 2030 without urgent action, experts warn

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 15 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4831
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The NHS could be short of a quarter of a million healthcare staff by 2030 unless urgent and sustained action is taken to improve recruitment and retention, a group of leading experts have warned.

In a briefing paper1 the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation, and the Nuffield Trust predicts that NHS staff shortages in England could increase from 100 000 at present to almost 250 000 by 2030 if not dealt with. This could reach 350 000 if the NHS continues to lose staff and cannot attract skilled workers from abroad, the analysis suggests.

A workforce deficit on this scale would seriously undermine the ambitions of the NHS’s upcoming long term plan—meaning longer waiting lists, lower quality of care, and new money going unspent because of a lack of staff to deliver services, the experts warned.

Candace Imison, director of policy at the Nuffield Trust, said, “The NHS has a woeful track record in ensuring that the health service has the right numbers of staff it needs in all the right places.

“This has now reached a critical juncture: unless the NHS long term plan puts in place urgent and credible measures to shore up the workforce both in the short term and in the longer term, it risks being a major failure.”

With high numbers of doctors and nurses retiring early and training budgets facing potential cuts since the budget, the organisations urged ministers and NHS leaders to produce a ‘“funded and credible” workforce strategy for the next decade.

This should include boosting international recruitment after Brexit, expanding training places, apprenticeships, and financial incentives to attract staff, and making better use of some existing staff at GP surgeries, such as nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists.

The briefing also calls for efforts to deal with gender, race, or other inequalities in recruitment, pay, and career progression and to produce a much more coherent and transparent approach to workforce and health service planning.

It highlights the equally pressing staffing problems in the social care workforce and emphasises that the two areas must be tackled together.

Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said, “The NHS cannot meet increasing demand from patients without the workforce to staff services. Unless the NHS long term plan is linked to a credible strategy for recruiting and retaining staff, there is a real risk that some of the extra funding pledged by the government will go unspent and waiting lists for treatment will continue to grow.”

Anita Charlesworth, director of economics at the Health Foundation, said, “The NHS is overstretched, and services are being compromised by serious staff shortages. As things stand this problem will only get worse over the next decade, putting access and quality of care at risk.”


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