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There will be a debate on NHS staffing levels on Tuesday 22 November. The debate will be opened by Margaret Greenwood MP.

This debate pack provides background information on past NHS staff plans, NHS pay and recent debates around industrial action. 


A wide range of commentators and stakeholders have highlighted the significant workforce challenges facing the NHS. The Health and Social Care Committee have said the NHS and social care sectors “are facing the greatest workforce crisis in their history.” The Care Quality Commission (CQC) State of Care report also highlighted that “the persistent understaffing across health and social care poses a serious risk to the safety and wellbeing of people who use services.”

The Library briefing NHS Key Statistics: England, November 2022 highlight there have been increases in the number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS. However, it also shows the total number of NHS vacancies in June 2022 was 132,139 – a vacancy rate of 9.7%. This is an increase from the previous year, when the number of vacancies was 98,827 and the rate was 7.6%.

NHS staffing commitments

The Conservative Party Manifesto 2019 pledged to deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in general practice, 26,000 more primary care professionals, such as physiotherapists and pharmacists and 7,500 Nursing Associate apprentices.

The Government has said it is on track to meet its target of 50,000 nurses, but analysis by the King’s Fund in April 2022 said that looking beyond the headline data, recruitment is not having an impact on vacancies or the shortfall of nurses in the NHS.

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust in August 2022 also found varied progress was being made on NHS staffing targets. The think tank reported the number of health professionals (excluding GPs) was on track, but there was a net decrease in the number of fully qualified GPs.

The NHS Long Term Plan was published in January 2019 and included a chapter on tackling workforce pressures and supporting NHS staff.

The Plan set out workforce actions including:

  • Publication of a workforce implementation plan and creation of a national workforce
  • Increasing the supply of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs).
  • Growing the medical workforce by increasing medical school places from 6,000 to 7,500 per year and attracting more doctors to General Practice.
  • Setting out new national arrangements for recruiting overseas healthcare professionals.
  • Improving staff retention by 2% by 2025Doubling the number of NHS volunteers over the next three years.

In June 2019, the Interim NHS People Plan was published. The Interim plan focused on immediate actions to address workforce challenges, with the aim to publish a full five-year People Plan following the Government’s next Spending Review

Building on the Interim NHS people plan, We are the NHS: People plan for 2020/21 was published in July 2020 and set out actions for transformation across the NHS in 2020/21.

Calls for a long-term workforce plan

In July 2021, the DHSC commissioned Health Education England to review long-term trends for the health and regulated social care workforce and to update the existing long-tern framework, ‘Framework 15’.

In January 2022, the DHSC commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to supplement the NHS People Plan.

In the Government’s Autumn Statement 2022 on 17 November 2022, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the a comprehensive workforce plan will be published next year. He said the plan will “include independently-verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in 5, 10 and 15 years’ time, taking full account of improvements in retention and productivity.”

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