Back in 2006 there was widespread media coverage of a number of problems, including the unemployment of medical graduates and shortages of midwives. More recent media attention came with the perceived planning 'failures' that accompanied the new training programme for junior doctors, Modernising Medical Careers, which left some doctors in training without training posts.
A House of Commons Health Committee inquiry in 2007 highlighted some of the underlying problems that drove these failures, including a lack of alignment between workforce planning and service/financial planning, and inadequate workforce planning capacity.
The following year, the NHS Next Stage Review called for service providers and local commissioners to take a leading role in workforce planning. New national bodies were established to improve quality of forecasting and provide expert support.
But a number of issues remain unresolved.
Where does responsibility lie for acting on any workforce risk identified at national or local level? How will planning be better integrated across different professional groups when funding and planning is still split between the medical and 'non-medical' workforce? And how will links be made between service planning, workforce planning, workforce development and key determinants of productivity such as pay and conditions?
The use of NHS funds to significantly expand staff numbers and increase pay with no demonstrable gains in productivity is also, at least in part, a failure in workforce planning.
The NHS consistently devotes little attention to skilling up, retraining and redeploying the current workforce to enable them to adopt new and more productive ways of working. Our research on NHS workforce planning, published today, shows that only a tiny proportion, under 5 per cent, of central training monies are invested in current staff development, yet most of those who will be working in the NHS in 10 years' time are already working in it today.
In comparison, the NHS invests billions of pounds each year training future health care professionals. It is questionable whether current training curriculum and pathways adequately equip staff for future models of care.
There is a need for new thinking. The focus needs to be on developing a flexible approach that does not seek long-term precision but can enable the workforce to evolve and adapt to the inherently unpredictable but certainly 'colder' health care environment.
Read the report: NHS workforce planning: Limitations and possibilities