Sunak Unveils 15-year Plan to Boost NHS Staffing in England by 300,000 People

NHS England is expected to employ over 300,000 extra nurses, doctors, and other health workers under a 15-year plan to tackle staff shortages in the health service.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his government is making “the largest single expansion in NHS education and training in its history.”

There are currently 112,000 vacancies across the NHS in England. Officials have warned that, without action, there could be 360,000 vacancies in the health service by 2037.

Epoch Times Photo
An undated image of an unidentified hospital in the United Kingdom. (Victoria Jones/PA)

“In the coming years, we will train twice the number of doctors and an extra 24,000 more nurses a year, helping to cut waiting lists and improve patient care,” said Sunak, who has made cutting patient waiting lists one of his five priorities for the year.

The government will also “do more” to retain NHS staff and reform the way the health system works to “ensure it is fit for the future,” he added.

The plan is backed with a £2.4 billion government investment over five years.

Cutting Reliance on Foreign Workers

By 2031, the NHS aims to double medical school training places to 15,000, increase by 50 percent the number of doctor training places, and nearly double the number of adult nurse training places.

Officials have also asked the doctors’ regulator—the General Medical Council—and medical schools to consult on the introduction of four-year medical degrees, which are five years at present, and medical internships, allowing students to start work six months earlier.

The NHS will ramp up apprenticeships so students can “earn while they learn.” The aim is to provide 22 percent of all training for clinical staff through apprenticeship routes by 2031, up from 7 percent today.

The government aims to train more NHS staff domestically to reduce reliance on international recruitment. In 15 years’ time, the government expects around 9–10.5 percent of the NHS workforce to be recruited from overseas, compared to nearly a quarter now.

Meanwhile, the NHS is to crack down on spending on expensive agency staff, with health leaders ordered to cut the bill by £10 billion by 2036.

The plan, along with new retention measures, could mean the health service has at least an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 more nurses, and 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.

‘Overstretched Workforce’

Sunak told a Downing Street press briefing on Friday that the health service is under pressure and the workforce is “overstretched.”

He said: “Our society is growing older, the burden of illness is changing, and all of this will put pressure on an already overstretched workforce.”

He said governments from all parties had “ducked” the workforce challenge for decades but that “overcoming this won’t be quick or easy.”

He added: “It’s only possible because of the difficult decisions we’re taking elsewhere to cut the debt and by prioritising the NHS, there will be other things that we can’t afford.

“But the NHS is too important. So we’re making the tough calls, and doing things differently, to protect the long-term future of the NHS and this country.”

He said the plan eases pressures today but also protects “this precious national institution for the long term.”

He added, “You can trust this government with the NHS.”

‘Historic Opportunity’

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “This plan presents a historic opportunity to do things differently to help ease pressures on staff and increase capacity so they can spend more time with patients.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting claimed the Conservatives were taking ideas from his party.

He added: “The Conservatives have finally admitted they have no ideas of their own, so are adopting Labour’s plan to train the doctors and nurses the NHS needs. They should have done this a decade ago—then the NHS would have enough staff today.”

But, talking to ITV, Barclay said Streeting’s suggestion was “laughable,” adding, “Their plan doesn’t touch on any of the reform.”

PA Media and Reuters contributed to this report.

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