The Prime Minister has insisted people being brought into new roles in the NHS will be trained and regulated properly as he said the Tories can be trusted with the health service.
The Government has published its plan for a massive shake-up in how the NHS recruits and retains staff, promising thousands more workers, some of whom will train on the job.
Rishi Sunak told reporters on a visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge that the General Medical Council (GMC) will bring new roles like physician associates into its remit, so they can prescribe.
He said “that’s what having a modern workforce is about”, adding: “It’s about adapting to how people’s health needs to be treated and if you talk to some of the people that I was talking to earlier, they’re doing all these new roles.
“We should be modernising the NHS so it’s fit for the future.
“Healthcare is evolving and the NHS needs to evolve with it, and that’s what the plan does.”
Mr Sunak later told a Downing Street press briefing the service was under pressure, in part due to an aging population.
He said: “Our society is growing older, the burden of illness is changing, and all of this will put pressure on an already overstretched workforce.”
He said governments from all parties had “ducked” the workforce challenge for decades but that “overcoming this won’t be quick or easy”.
He added: “It’s only possible because of the difficult decisions we’re taking elsewhere to cut the debt and by prioritising the NHS, there will be other things that we can’t afford.
“But the NHS is too important. So we’re making the tough calls, and doing things differently, to protect the long-term future of the NHS and this country.”
He said the plan eases pressures today but also protects “this precious national institution for the long term”.
He added: “You can trust this Government with the NHS.”
Under the plan, more than 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers are expected to be employed in the NHS in England over the coming years.
The possibility of cutting the amount of time doctors spend in medical school, driving up the number of home-grown NHS staff and ramping up apprenticeship places are among the ideas to deal with severe staff shortages.
It comes as officials warned that, without action, there could be 360,000 vacancies in the health service by 2037.
The plan, along with new retention measures, could mean the health service has at least an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 more nurses and 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.
Officials have asked the GMC regulator and medical schools to consult on the introduction of four-year medical degrees, which are five years at present, and medical internships, allowing students to start work six months earlier.
The document says the Government and NHS will:
– Double medical school training places to 15,000 by 2031, with more places in areas with the greatest shortages of doctors.
– Increase the number of GP training places by 50% to 6,000 by 2031.
– Almost double the number of adult nurse training places by 2031, taking the total number of places to nearly 38,000 by 2031/32.
– Ramp up apprenticeships so students can “earn while they learn”. The aim is to provide 22% of all training for clinical staff through apprenticeship routes by 2031/32, up from 7% today. To support this ambition, the NHS plans to reach 16% by 2028/29.
– Introduce medical degree apprenticeships, with pilots running in 2024/25, so that by 2031/32, 2,000 medical students will train via this route. Medical degree apprenticeships will be boosted to more than 850 by 2028/29.
– Expand dentistry training places by 40% so there are more than 1,100 places by 2031/32. To support this ambition, the Government says it will reach 24% more by 2028/29, taking the overall number that year to 1,000 places.
-Train more NHS staff domestically to reduce reliance on international recruitment and agency staff. In 15 years’ time, the Government expects around 9–10.5% of the NHS workforce to be recruited from overseas, compared to nearly a quarter now.
– Increasing training places for nursing associates to 10,500 by 2031/32. By 2036/37, there will be more than 64,000, compared to 4,600 today.
– Increasing physician associate (PA) training places to more than 1,500 by 2031/32. This will establish a workforce of 10,000 PAs by 2036/37.
Meanwhile, the NHS is to crack down on spending on expensive agency staff, with health leaders ordered to cut the bill by £10 billion by 2036/37.
Nurses will also be allowed to start work as soon as they graduate in May, instead of in September as they do currently.
Officials said the document will also have a “renewed focus on retention” – with more flexible working options and better career development.
It is hoped the plans, along with reforms to pension schemes, could mean up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer.
The new plan has been backed by a £2.4 billion investment by the Government.
Health leaders have also agreed the plan needs to be revised every two years to accommodate changing needs across the service.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pitchard told the Downing Street briefing the plan was good for both staff and patients.
She said demand for health workers is increasing, and will continue increasing across the world.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” she added.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “This plan presents a historic opportunity to do things differently to help ease pressures on staff and increase capacity so they can spend more time with patients.
“Whilst we need to attract new staff, we also want to make sure we support and retain existing staff who possess invaluable skills and experience.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting claimed the Conservatives were taking ideas from his party.
He added: “The Conservatives have finally admitted they have no ideas of their own, so are adopting Labour’s plan to train the doctors and nurses the NHS needs. They should have done this a decade ago – then the NHS would have enough staff today.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub
Written by: admin