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NHS workforce plan must boost retention over recruitment, says the RCN

The RCN has warned that the Government that ‘you cannot recruit your way out of a retention crisis’, as PM Rishi Sunak prepared to unveil a ‘historic’ plan to tackle NHS staff shortages

The NHS’s current 112,00 vacancies, are set to triple over the next 15 years. The new workforce plan is expected to address this shortfall by giving the NHS 60,000 extra doctors, and 170,000 additional nurses by 2036/37.

But calling for ‘meaningful long-term solutions’, Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary said: ‘You cannot recruit your way out of a retention crisis and we wish to see detailed plans to keep the experienced staff needed to make any proposals work and how it intends to make nursing an attractive profession to join.’  

This comes after a recent report from the RCN revealed a ‘mass exodus’ of nursing staff, with 68% of those who left the register early claiming that poor working conditions influenced their decision to leave as well as mounting frustrations over pay.

‘The plan must not forget that effective ways to keep people in the profession is to pay staff fairly and demonstrate there are options for career progression.’ said Ms Cullen.

Plans for further RCN strikes were scrapped last week, as votes in favour did not reach the legal threshold. But junior doctors, another staff grouping facing reterntion issues, are set to strike again next week, as the NHS staff pay dispute rumbles on..

Dr Latifa Patel, BMA representative body chair and workforce lead, echoed the RCN’s disappointment, stating that plans to fix the NHS were both ‘long overdue and lacking in substance on retention’. While she welcomed the plans to increase staffing levels, Dr Patel raised concerns about the lack of infrastructure following the expansion to support staff though their career.

‘It’s all well and good training new doctors, but pointless if they don’t stay in the workforce. Investing in medical school places while refusing to reverse years of pay erosion and fixing the broken pay review system is completely illogical and uneconomical’, Dr Patel added.

Despite concerns about the lack of detail anticipated in the plan, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers claims that this extension is a ‘significant step forward for the NHS and its people’ and celebrates the ‘ambitious plan to boost workforce numbers’.

Defending the plan, he said: ‘retention is a key challenge for the NHS and employers support the focus on measures to improve staff experience, including flexible working, changing culture and working conditions. This is a journey all employers are already on, and they know that this is rightly a priority for the plan and their own people.’

But the devil will be in the detail, as the full NHS workforce plan is expected to be announced this afternoon, Dr Patel reminds members that without sufficient road mapping, which lays bare the path of proposals, it is ‘merely a wish list’.