A workforce fit for the future is possible if NHS acts now, says The King's Fund

Workforce planning has to be a core part of the productivity and quality improvement agenda in the NHS, says The King's Fund in a new report published today.

NHS Workforce and Planning: Limitations and possibilities, considers the degree to which NHS workforce planning in England is likely to support the delivery of a workforce that is 'fit for the future'.

The report recommends that the emphasis of workforce planning should not be solely on 'new' recruits but on how the system can develop new skills for those who are already employed in the service. It concludes that the focus should be on developing a flexible approach to workforce planning that doesn't seek long-term precision but can enable the current workforce to evolve and adapt to the inherently unpredictable health care environment.

The NHS in England employs 1.3 million staff, and workforce costs account for 70 per cent of NHS expenditure. The need to secure sufficient staff and deploy them effectively is all the more important as the NHS enters one of the most financially constrained periods in its history. This report discusses current developments in workforce planning, highlights relevant international experience, and proposes ways in which planning could be made more effective for the unpredictable future ahead.

Candace Imison, The King's Fund's deputy director of policy, said:

'Delivering improved quality and productivity while meeting growing demand for health care at a time of financial constraint will present a major challenge for the NHS. Much of the opportunity to improve productivity lies in effective workforce planning.

'There is need for new thinking in this area. Most of the staff who will be working for the NHS in 10 years are already working in the system so it makes perfect sense to hone the skills of this vital group.'

Other key recommendations include:

  • There should be greater clarity of roles and responsibilities. Roles within workforce, service and financial planning need clarity, and current overlaps and gaps should be identified and resolved.
  • The multi professional approach to workforce planning should be strengthened. The impact of the recently established professional advisory machinery should be reviewed after one year to assess whether it is successfully supporting an effective multidisciplinary approach to workforce planning.
  • There should be better co-ordination between policy levers. The annual assessment of priorities needs to look at workforce in the round – not just the different professional groups. In particular, consideration of pay policy needs to be better linked to broader workforce goals.

Notes to editors: 

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2603.
  2. The King’s Fund is a charity that seeks to understand how the health system in England can be improved. Using that insight, we help to shape policy, transform services and bring about behaviour change. Our work includes research, analysis, leadership development and service improvement. We also offer a wide range of resources to help everyone working in health to share knowledge, learning and ideas.