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Our plans for the NHS will help it thrive for years to come

(Alan Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

This month we celebrated the NHS’ 75th birthday. As the health of the country changes, with an ageing population and more people living with multiple health conditions, so too does the way people interact with the NHS, meaning services face new challenges and pressures. It is crucial we set the NHS up for the future so it can adapt to the changing terrain of healthcare, including adopting exciting technological and AI advances.

That’s why, in the run-up to the birthday, we announced a number of measures to drive innovation and improve care for patients. This includes a national targeted lung cancer screening programme which will save lives by detecting up to 9,000 cancers a year at an early stage. We also announced the roll-out of digital health checks across England to enable people to test for conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol from home, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of appointments in primary care.  

Most significantly, the NHS published its much-anticipated Long Term Workforce Plan to recruit and retain hundreds of thousands more staff and ensure the NHS thrives for another 75 years.   

NHS staff are the lifeblood of our health service, and their unwavering dedication and unparalleled hard work has seen patients through both good and bad times – and has seen the country through a pandemic.   

We need to ensure the NHS has the staff it requires for the long-term. And that’s exactly what this plan will do as it looks at ways to ease pressure on the workforce and reduce our reliance on international recruitment over the next 15 years.   

This is the first time any government has published a comprehensive workforce plan of this nature.   

It has been welcomed by NHS leaders across the healthcare sector, from NHS Providers to NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.   

The plan places an emphasis on training more staff, retaining dedicated existing staff and reforming the way we work, including by embracing the very latest technological innovations. It is also backed by over £2.4bn of funding for training and education over the next five years. This represents a significant, long-term investment from the government to deliver the most radical modernisation and reform of the workforce since the NHS was founded in 1948.  

The NHS will double undergraduate medical school training places to 15,000 a year by 2031 and increasing GP training places by 50 per cent. We’re also committing to nearly doubling nursing and midwifery training places and ramping up the number of apprenticeships so nearly a fifth of all clinical staff will train through apprenticeship routes by 2030, up from just seven per cent today.   

The plan also looks at the benefits of adopting technology. AI has the potential to free up staff time and improve the accuracy and efficiency of diagnostics through interpreting images and automating some clinical decisions, where it is safe to do so. One example is an AI tool developed in the NHS that can reduce the time radiotherapy teams spend isolating tumours for treatment. To ensure we take advantage of the opportunities that AI can offer, the government and NHS England will convene an expert group to build on previous work.  

This is just the beginning, and the NHS will review the plan every two years to ensure it is keeping pace with the requirements of NHS staff and patients. The Prime Minister has described this as “historic” and the chief executive of the NHS Amanda Pritchard called it “once in a generation” – and it is all those things. But it’s also a promise from us to put the NHS workforce at the heart of everything we’re doing, and we’re investing in growing the workforce so the health service continues to be something we’re proud of. 

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