As initial reactions to the long-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan are shared, attention is turning to what the plan really means for the NHS and how its ambitions can be delivered given the challenging backdrop of staff who are dissatisfied with their work, many of whom are engaged in industrial action over their working conditions. The plan brings hope and constructive challenges to current ways of working, but it will take energy and drive from those very same groups of staff to deliver change across NHS services.
Recognising the NHS was in a difficult place in terms of workforce challenges and staff wellbeing even before the Covid-19 pandemic means the ambitions of the workforce plan can be better understood. Added to this and noted in NHS workforce studies since the pandemic, more staff are feeling overwhelmed and suffering ill effects from the demands of their work. Where NHS staff are struggling to cope with the impact of work following the pandemic, and offering an appropriate level of support means they are far more likely to want to carry on working for the NHS.
In addition to retaining current staff, the NHS needs to attract, and train a significant number of new staff, and it needs the knowledge, skills, and time of experienced NHS staff to deliver on this. The NHS needs a refreshed and vitalised workforce who can nurture, educate, and support students in greater numbers as well as new staff so they can have positive learning experiences. Any workforce reform agenda on the scale that the NHS is being asked to deliver takes energy and changes to the way existing staff are being asked to work and ensuring that the current workforce is re-vitalised and has the energy to deliver these asks will need investment in how the workforce is looked after.
Rather than just focus on occupational health once individuals are too unwell to work, the NHS needs to build an ongoing recovery and support offer that encourages good health and wellbeing among staff and the services they deliver. A national approach to health and wellbeing within the NHS would ensure that all staff are offered an equal amount of care, regardless of the funding position of their employing organisation. A purposeful recovery offer for all staff will mean the system is much more likely to be an attractive place for people to want to work. Ensuring that recovery is built into the workforce plan means that the ongoing needs of NHS staff continue to be recognised.