In short supply: Pay policy and nurse numbers

Workforce profile and trends in the English NHS

April 2017

James Buchan
Ian Seccombe
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Key points

  • Nursing staff numbers are insufficient – and this shortfall is likely to be exacerbated by poor workforce planning.
  • Given the pressure on numbers, ensuring that nurses are deployed effectively to support safe and efficient delivery of care is vital.
  • Most NHS staff will have had a pay cut since 2010/11 and current public sector pay policy implies they will face further pay cuts in the coming years.
  • The NHS needs a pay policy that will enable it to recruit, retain and engage the workforce it needs to succeed.
  • Agenda for Change staff at Band 5 and above – which represents 625,000 people and includes all nurses - will face a 12% pay cut between 2010/11 and 2020/21, after accounting for inflation.
  • Workforce planning is essential to ensuring productivity and requires a clear and coordinated workforce strategy.
  • Piecemeal policy making, however well-intentioned any individual initiative might be, is not serving the NHS well.

In April 2017, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS concluded that the biggest internal threat to the sustainability of the NHS is the lack of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the NHS and care system the workforce it needs.

This briefing, and its two supplements, examines two of the most important issues in workforce policy today which pose both immediate and long-term risks to the ability of the NHS to sustain high quality care: staffing numbers and standards and the future of NHS pay policy. It highlights that the lack of a coherent workforce strategy which is integrated with funding plans and service delivery models is one of the Achilles heels of the NHS.

Further reading

Research report

Staffing matters; funding counts

This report examines the profile and features of the NHS workforce in England, including; health labour market trends; releva...

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