'Train, retain, reform': Rishi Sunak hails NHS plan for 300,000 extra workers

ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana has the details of Rishi Sunak's plan - and how it's been received

The Prime Minister has hailed his government's radical plan for the NHS in England, which aims to employ more than 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers over the coming years.

The plan marks a massive shake-up in how the NHS recruits and retains staff. The possibility of cutting the amount of time doctors spend in medical school, driving up the number of home-grown NHS staff and ramping up apprenticeship places are among the ideas to deal with severe staff shortages in the NHS.

In a press conference on Friday, Rishi Sunak claimed the new 15-year plan is one that will “deliver the biggest ever expansion in the number of doctors and nurses that we train, and a plan to reform the NHS so we deliver better care in a changing world, and a plan that not only eases the pressures today, but protects this precious national institution for the long term”. He added: “You can trust this government with the NHS. The plan rests on three principles, train retain and reform."

The announcement comes as officials warned that, without action, there could be 360,000 vacancies in the health service by 2037.

Health leaders, who have previewed the details of the plan but have not yet released the full document, claim the strategy will help meet challenges of a growing and ageing population while addressing recruitment and retention issues currently leading to severe staff shortages.

There are currently 112,000 vacancies across the NHS in England.

At Friday's press conference, ITV News put to Mr Sunak that despite NHS workers striking due to below inflation pay rises, the new plan pledges "lots of money for training, but not a lot of money for pay".

The PM responded: "Would everyone like to be paid more? Of course they would, but I think everyone else also recognises the economic context that we’re in and our job in government is to balance all of those things, make sure that we reward people fairly and well for the work they’re doing… but also make sure were doing things that are good for them and the rest of the country and that means bringing down inflation."

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana puts to the PM that the plan mentions ‘lots of money for training, but not a lot of money for pay’

Officials say the plans set out, 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.

Alongside the plan, officials have asked the doctors’ regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC), 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 workforce plan aims to drive up the numbers of home-grown NHS staff as the international pool of health workers is increasingly being drawn upon by other countries.

Officials said the document will:

  • Double medical school training places to 15,000 by 2031, with more places in areas with the greatest shortages of doctors

  • Increase the number of GP training places by 50% to 6,000 by 2031

  • Almost double the number of adult nurse training places by 2031

  • Ramp up apprenticeships so students can “earn while they learn” – it is estimated that one in six (16%) of all training for clinical staff, including doctors, nurses and other health professionals, will be offered through degree apprenticeships by 2028, including 850 doctor apprenticeships

  • A 40% rise in nurse associate training places over five years

  • New medical schools in parts of the country where there are the greatest staffing shortages.

Following the announcement of the workforce plan, a report by MPs found some parts of the NHS lack “the most basic, functioning IT equipment”, with progress on digitising the health service “slow and uneven”.

Members of the Health and Social Care Committee published their Digital Transformation In The NHS report on Friday, exploring how the use of technology and innovation can sustain the health service in the future.

The report said past attempts at modernisation had been “frustrated by a number of factors” such as out-of-date IT systems “that cannot handle the demands of a modern digital health service”.

The workforce plan states that the NHS is to crack down on spending from expensive agency staff, with health leaders ordered to cut the bill by £10 billion by 2036/37.

Nurses will also be allowed to start work as soon as they graduate in May, instead of in September as they do currently.

Officials said the document will also have a “renewed focus on retention” – with more flexible working options and better career development.

It is hoped these plans, which are yet to be seen in full, along with reforms to pension schemes, could mean that up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer.

The new plan – which was commissioned and accepted by ministers – has been backed by a £2.4 billion investment by the government to fund additional education and training places over five years on top of existing funding commitments.

Health leaders have also agreed the plan needs to be revised every two years to accommodate changing needs across the service.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The publication of our first-ever NHS long-term workforce plan now gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put staffing on sustainable footing for the years to come.

“As we look to adapt to new and rising demand for health services globally, this long-term blueprint is the first step in a major and much-needed expansion of our workforce to ensure we have the staff we need to deliver for patients.”

Health secretary Steve Barclay tells ITV’s Good Morning Britain that staff retention within the NHS is 'important'

Health secretary Steve Barclay told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "It’s a hugely important day for the NHS - it’s the biggest ever expansion of workforce training.

"I think the announcement of the plan and the boost of numbers that this sets out will send a hugely positive signal to many in the NHS."

'This looks remarkably like Labour's plan,' shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tells ITV News

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

He told ITV News: “We’ve been calling on the government for pretty much a year now to adopt Labour’s plan for the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history… this looks remarkably like Labour’s plan, which to be honest is a relief because we desperately need to get the NHS staff they need to treat patients on time."

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