Better staff retention critical to solving NHS workforce crisis, warns HEE chief

The NHS must focus on improving retention of existing staff to beat the growing workforce crisis, the chief executive of Health Education England (HEE) has warned.

Health Education England chief executive Professor Ian Cumming
Health Education England chief executive Professor Ian Cumming

HEE chief executive Professor Ian Cumming told the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo on Thursday that the NHS needs to see workforce growth of between 3-5% per annum for the next 10 years to meet increasing demand.

Retention was a ‘critically important’ part of solving the current workforce crisis, he told the conference. Professor Cumming said: 'Training isn’t an issue for solving today’s problems. It’s retaining staff and recruiting staff. Retaining is critically important.'

He added: 'We must remember when we’re focusing on the workforce that we don’t just focus on the new workforce. In 15 years time more than 50% of the NHS workforce are currently employed by us today. So if we want to change how we do things, we have to focus on the current workforce because in the next 15 years they will be the majority of people employed.’

NHS workforce

‘Looking forward 10 years, we’ve modelled based on various scenarios where we believe the workforce needs to be and, however you look at it, the range that we have come up with is that we need a workforce growth of between 3-5% per annum every year for the next 10 years.

'Therefore, at the top end of that, in 10 years the workforce needs to be 50% bigger than it is now, and at the lower end it needs to be 30% bigger than it is now.’

Professor Cumming's comments come after analysis by GPonline found that although the GP retention scheme is on track to meet its GP Forward View (GPFV) target of 500 retained GPs by 2020/21, these figures are dwarfed by numbers quitting the profession each month.

One way HEE aims to build the workforce, Professor Cumming said, is by building greater flexibility into NHS roles so that individuals are more easily able to move from one area of clinical practice to another ‘through concepts of credentialing’.

Flexible roles

He also highlighted the importance of recognising the changing priorities of millennial workers coming into the workforce and the need to create more varied roles.

‘If we continue to do things as we do them now, without a focus on prevention, productivity through service redesign, without a focus on new roles and skill-mix, we will need the 5%. If we actually bring those factors into play, we’re much closer to the 3%,’ he said.

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