How will the NHS plan its future workforce?

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25 April 2022

How will the NHS plan its future workforce?

Even before COVID-19 hit, the NHS was experiencing a staffing crisis and the pandemic has only emphasised this and highlighted what a huge strain our NHS staff work under.  It was reported earlier this year that there is a shortage of 84,000 staff with 38,000 of these vacancies being for nurses and 2500 for GPs.  It shouldn’t really come as a surprise when you consider that there has been no formal workforce strategy in the NHS since 2003*.

The impact of staff shortages

With these shortages having a direct impact on people’s care, as reported by the Care Commission and the morale and wellbeing of staff, there clearly needs to be a better strategy, better processes and more focus placed on staff retention.

The pace of change in healthcare is fast-moving with tech being rapidly adopted this year and the staffing processes need to change with it.  Workforce management needs to keep up.

Aligning skills with patient needs

There has been a lot of talk about a shift in focus so that ‘the right mix of health workers, with the right skills, and providing services in the right places, to better respond to changing patient needs’ is achieved, as reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development**.

Changing patient needs, as well as medical and technological advances, mean that all frontline staff will need to learn new skills and adopt new ways of working over the next 10 years.

The OECD report also said that the skills of the current health care workforce are poorly aligned to patient need. Under-skilling creates quality and safety issues while over-skilling is inefficient and lowers morale.

The benefits of skills-based staffing

Skills-based staffing is one approach being cited to bring about better outcomes for patients and staff.  It means that patients are treated by the person with the best skills rather than the person with the appropriate job title.  Given there seems to be huge variation of job titles, particularly in nursing, a skills-based approach could be a huge step forward.  Recent research found 595 job titles in use in 17,960 nursing posts alone (King’s Fund).

Skills-based staffing emphasises people’s practical and working knowledge – what they can do rather than what education or job title they hold. By uncovering any ‘hidden’ skills you can utilise your workforce more efficiently and it creates more flexibility by removing job title barriers.

The outcomes are that staff are likely to have more job satisfaction as they are using their full range of skills and it’s better overall for retention and morale. A skills-based system is popular in the US and has shown to work well in the pandemic and during other periods of high demand.

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