Interim plan could never be a magic fix for the severe workforce challenges we face

Saffron Cordery profile picture

03 June 2019

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
NHS Providers


You can’t begin to fix a problem until you admit you have one and acknowledge the scale of challenge ahead.

The workforce challenge that the NHS now faces has been growing in front of us for too long. There are 100,000 vacancies across NHS trusts and many more in primary and social care. This problem is affecting patients and service users now and the pressure on the staff that we do have is just rising and rising.

The workforce challenge that the NHS now faces has been growing in front of us for too long. There are 100,000 vacancies across NHS trusts and many more in primary and social care.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

We know that the success of the long term plan depends on ensuring that staff and skills shortages are addressed effectively.

Finding the solution to a challenge this complex will not be easy. There is no magic, single fix. No white rabbit that can be pulled from the magician’s hat.

It is not just about securing additional staff to meet future demand – important though that is. It’s vital that staff want to stay, so we must focus on making the NHS a great place to work, changing the leadership culture and investing in training and development to ensure our workforce is equipped for the future.

It’s vital that staff want to stay, so we must focus on making the NHS a great place to work, changing the leadership culture and investing in training and development to ensure our workforce is equipped for the future.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

NHS trusts have an important role to play in all of these areas and are already working hard to improve the way they support and nurture their own staff – but this challenge goes beyond just trusts.

The whole of the NHS must come together and align behind a single unified plan – an approach that has been sadly lacking for too long.

Recognition of the challenges

This is why the NHS People Plan, including the interim plan published today, is so important. It’s the first, clear, public recognition from our national system leaders of the severity of the workforce challenges the NHS faces.

It is a single, clear approach, in which government, arms length bodies and the NHS front line all have crucial roles to play. Getting this right is imperative for a solid foundation to achieving the ambitions of the NHS long term plan and delivering real change for patients and for those working in health and care services.

It is a single, clear approach, in which government, arms length bodies and the NHS front line all have crucial roles to play. Getting this right is imperative for a solid foundation to achieving the ambitions of the NHS long term plan and delivering real change for patients and for those working in health and care services.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

It is also a welcome acknowledgement from our national system leaders that solving our workforce challenge isn’t just about future workforce planning and more money.

Workforce challenges are the number one issue that the NHS faces. Above everything else, they present the biggest risk to the future sustainability of health and care services. After all it is the workforce of the NHS that are the driving force behind implementing the ambitions of the long term plan.

It is the workforce of the NHS that are the driving force behind implementing the ambitions of the long term plan.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

Many of our colleagues across the health policy environment will look at this interim workforce plan and argue that we needed more.

More money, more staff and thought-through solutions to some of the serious issues we face over pension reform and future immigration rules.

But we have to be realistic about where we are now. We know that pivotal decisions about education, training and growing the domestic workforce cannot be made without clarity over the forthcoming spending review. Given the timing of that and the government’s relentless focus on Brexit – the room for manoeuvre was severely restricted.

Welcome progress

So we should look at the interim plan for what it is. We should welcome the progress in bringing the NHS together behind a single plan and setting out the scale of the challenge, rather than fixating on what it doesn’t contain and could never deliver at this stage.

We should welcome the progress in bringing the NHS together behind a single plan and setting out the scale of the challenge, rather than fixating on what it doesn’t contain and could never deliver at this stage.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

The process behind this plan should also be welcomed. It really has felt different this time. The plan has been developed in a much more inclusive way. It has brought together the voices of the frontline, wider sector and government. It is vital that we build on this, to sustain momentum.

Of course that does not mean there aren’t tough decisions ahead and the risks of getting this wrong remain. We can’t ignore the significance of the upcoming spending review. It is vital that NHS education and training budgets are addressed, as part of the mix of short-term and longer term solutions we need to see within a final plan.

The interim NHS plan points us in the right direction. Now we need to work with the government to deliver it. That is what patients and the public rightly expect us to do.

This blog was also published in the HSJ.

About the author

Saffron Cordery profile picture

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
@Saffron_Policy

Saffron is NHS Providers deputy chief executive, part of the senior management team and sits on our board. She has extensive experience in policy development, influencing and communications and has worked in the healthcare sector since 2007. Before moving into healthcare, Saffron was head of public affairs at the Local Government Association, the voice of local councils in England. Her early career focused on influencing EU legislation and policy development, and she started working life in adult and community education.

She has a degree in Modern Languages from the University in Manchester, for ten years was a board member and then chair of a 16–19 college in Hampshire and is a trustee of GambleAware, a leading charity committed to minimising gambling-related harm. Read more

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