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Report

NHS staffing shortages

Why do politicians struggle to give the NHS the staff it needs?

Authors

The workforce crisis has been a prominent issue for years, but there has been little concerted action from governments to tackle the challenge.

For almost two decades now there has been no clear plan to address the crisis and the staffing gaps have continued to worsen, because, for whatever reason, the UK political system seems unable to respond properly to this very real public concern. Given this long-running gap in solutions from national politicians, The King’s Fund and Engage Britain commissioned Bill Morgan, a former Conservative special adviser, to explore what can get in the way of ministers taking meaningful, long-term action to address NHS workforce shortages.

The resulting report, NHS staffing shortages; why can’t politicians give the NHS the staff it needs?, focuses on the role of politicians in workforce planning and delivery. It sets out the scale of the workforce crisis and the impact that it has, and the causes – identified in the report as difficulties in workforce forecasting, a tendency to train too few staff in the UK, and the insufficiently strategic use of international migration to compensate. It also considers the political reasons around why it has historically been so hard to fix and considers three factors that could contribute to tackling the current shortages:

  • transparency in workforce forecasts

  • the establishment of an independent workforce-planning organisation

  • accepting the NHS’s historical reliance on recruitment from outside the UK as explicit future policy and planning accordingly.

The accompanying long read from Sally Warren, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, looks to place Morgan’s report in a wider policy context to briefly consider the range of actions that the long and often-promised comprehensive workforce plan for health and care needs to cover. For those leading on workforce away from national policy, the long read provides an overview of the key factors to keep in mind to act comprehensively across the range of levers to grow and support the workforce.

About this project

This report was funded by The King’s Fund and Engage Britain. It was independently developed, researched and written by the author and all views are the author’s own. The author undertook this project between May and October 2022.