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The NHS Workforce Plan still leaves many questions unanswered

It goes without saying that the NHS is of central importance to everyone working in the UK health space as it is by far the largest healthcare provider in the country.  

The National Health Service is, however,  in a deeply challenging position, with long waiting lists, failing infrastructure, and workforce shortages all seeping into the public’s consciousness and impacting care. The need for improvements is undeniable, but an ageing population, growing health inequalities, and long-running under-staffing mean delivery of meaningful changes for the long term sustainability of the NHS is easier said than done.

What is the NHS Workforce Plan 2023?

The NHS’s 75th birthday, celebrated during the week beginning 3rd July, created a backdrop for various announcements and commitments relating to health, and on Friday 30th June the Government announced a long-term NHS workforce plan

The Plan contains £2.4bn of funding and ambitious measures (though notably excluding any increases in pay) to take place over the next 15 years to train and retain staff, improve workforce flexibility, and reform workforce monitoring. Everything in the Plan is aimed at developing and sustaining a resilient and adaptable healthcare workforce capable of meeting the evolving needs of the population.

The Workforce Plan’s commitment to HealthTech innovation

Of particular interest to our clients are commitments relating to digital and tech innovations. Many people in and around the health sector see driving innovation as the best way to provide more cost-efficient care, treat people more quickly, and improve health outcomes with better care and increased prevention. 

However, with the NHS being such a large, fragmented system, getting cutting-edge tech adopted and rolled out is an enormous task. The Health Tech Alliance estimates that it takes approximately 17 years for a device to be adopted into the NHS. 

The Plan claims widespread adoption and use of innovation will be one of the most important ways of delivering productivity ambitions. It highlights AI, robotic surgery, and remote monitoring as particularly valuable areas. 

Intention to establish an AI expert group

The sector will also be pleased with the announcement of an AI expert group to work through details around where AI can best be used alongside commitments to a greater rollout of tech more generally. 

However, the last few years have seen similar announcements from the NHS,  and a lot of talk on HealthTech, but more details are needed about how this exactly will be achieved, what barriers to adoption will be broken down, and how the best emerging tech can prove itself and get adopted, to the benefits of both patients and workforce. 

Improving the NHS workforce

In terms of broader recruitment, the Plan aims to tackle the 260,000-360,000 people shortfall that is predicted by 2036/7. It plans to achieve this by reducing overseas hiring and temporary employment by significantly boosting the number of UK medical school and training placements, and shortening the qualification route. 

This comes alongside retention-focussed measures like improving staff morale, retraining for new roles, and a focus on wellbeing and tackling burnout. The whole Plan will also be placed under continual review, aimed at ensuring that it remains adaptive and sensitive to changing circumstances. 

HealthTech professionals across the board see the need for significant workforce improvements and the sense of commitment from the NHS is welcomed. However, some of these commitments – though laudable – are broad, vague, and not obviously different from the status quo. 

As with previous announcements, like the MedTech Strategy, it is not clear how these promises will actually be translated into policy and delivered. In a tight economic context and with complex processes to navigate, more needs to be done to provide the certainty and clarity needed. 

One of Clarity’s specialties is working with HealthTech companies globally; these are innovative organizations using technology to transform healthcare and improve patient outcomes. 

We provide public affairs, strategic communications and stakeholder engagement services to facilitate political communications, provide policy support, and enable market access to businesses in this sector, and beyond. 
Find out more about how Clarity can support your HealthTech company.

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