Rishi Sunak’s NHS plan explained in five points

More apprenticeships and increased technology among ‘historic’ proposals

Rishi Sunak
Sunak said the plan is ‘one of the most significant commitments I will make as prime minister’
(Image credit: Frank Augstein/Getty Images)

The government is promising “the biggest ever expansion in workforce training in the NHS’s history” as it announces “historic” plans to boost doctor numbers.

In what he described as “one of the most significant commitments I will make as prime minister”, Rishi Sunak pledged £2.4 billion over five years to train and hire more staff. More than 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers will be employed under the plans.

The prime minister answered questions about the new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan in a “Covid-style Downing Street press conference”, said The Times, but opposition politicians are already on the attack, with Labour accusing the government of copying its proposals.

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This is what we know so far.

Double medical school places

Officials said the plan will double medical school training places to 15,000 by 2031, with more places in areas with the greatest shortages of doctors, said The Independent.

The document will set out to increase the number of GP training places by 50% to 6,000 by 2031 and “almost double the number of adult nurse training places by 2031”.

This, it is hoped, will “banish the service’s chronic lack of frontline personnel, its heavy use of agency staff and the increasing reliance on foreign workers”, said The Guardian.

The proposals come as officials “warned that, without action, there could be 360,000 vacancies in the health service by 2037”, said Metro.

Ramped up apprenticeships

The plan sets out to “ramp up apprenticeships”, said The Independent, so students can “earn while they learn”. It is estimated that one in six of all training for clinical staff, including doctors, nurses and other health professionals, will be offered through degree apprenticeships by 2028, including 850 doctor apprenticeships.

“We believe apprenticeships will provide a particular boost in areas where it’s harder to recruit staff and reduce barriers to entry for more disadvantaged people looking to start a career in medicine,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation. A new apprenticeship for doctors will be launched next year, reported Personnel Today.

Retaining staff

As well as bringing new staff in, the plan is aimed at keeping hold of those already working in the health service. Officials said the document will also have a “renewed focus on retention” – with more flexible working options and better career development.

It is “hoped these plans”, together with “reforms to pension schemes”, could mean that up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS for longer, said The Independent.

Bot booking

The government hopes to bring more technology into the health service, said The Telegraph. It is calling for the use of “robotic process automation” to schedule appointments and operations alongside the use of AI software such as ChatGPT to transcribe doctors’ notes.

It is hoped that bots will automate booking processes up to 10 times faster than a human, while saving up to 30% in administrative costs. Sunak said this would “ensure that the NHS is fit for the future” and “modernise the NHS for the long term”.

Too late?

However, the workforce plan has not been universally praised. It has apparently been copied from Labour, said Wes Streeting. “To be fair to the government, it looks like they’re about to adopt our plan,” the shadow health secretary told Times Radio.

However, he added that the government “should have done this a decade ago – then the NHS would have enough staff today”. Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper agreed that the plan “will come too late for the millions of people who have suffered in pain or died in hospital corridors waiting for treatment because the government refused to act”.

Meanwhile, the union Unison warned yesterday that ministers must not ignore “support roles”, including porters, cleaners and 999 call handlers, in its NHS workforce strategy, said the i news site.

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