NHS England needs an extra £900m a year to save services from staffing crisis

But experts say the GP shortage is beyond rescue and will require pharmacists take on some of the work load

Experts are warning that the NHS staffing crisis will only get worse in the years to come if authorities do not take radical action.

In a collaborative report, the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation warned that by 2023/4, nurse shortages will double to 70,000 and the GP shortage will nearly triple to 7,000. This, the charities say, would make long-term NHS England plans impossible to achieve.

And eight days from the original Brexit deadline, the experts said the NHS must recruit an extra 5,000 nurses from abroad each year moving forward to keep services afloat.

The government would be required to adjust the £30,000 salary restrictions set out in the Immigration White Paper and fund visa costs for NHS trusts. The report also shows leaders will have to enact a series of major changes and schemes to have any chance of reversing the disastrous work force decline. Their recommendations include boosting nurse living grants and working to triple the number of people training as postgraduates.

But the expert strategists said the proposed changes would cost an extra £900m a year – and might still not be enough to rescue nursing from the staff shortage.

Candace Imison, director of workforce strategy at the Nuffield Trust, said the time for “tinkering at the margins” has passed.

She added: “The imminent workforce plan needs to mark the moment we stop treating the staffing of health and social care as a second order issue.

“I’m especially worried that while medical and technological advances mean staff need to adapt and learn more quickly than ever, we have slashed the funds that support this. If any of our lofty aspirations about better outcomes and digital technology are to become a reality, we need to get the budget for developing skills at least back to where it was – and that means a fourfold increase by 2023/24.”

The report concluded that the GP shortfall is so severe that it cannot be filled at all.

Instead, analysts said, other staff like pharmacists and physiotherapists will have to see patients for minor and routine issues. But even this would require the recruitment of another 6,000 physiotherapists.

They added that the NHS must be careful that new staff are not just pulled from social care roles as the field faces a crisis of its own.

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Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “Patients are facing longer delays for NHS treatment as services struggle to recruit and retain enough staff. Without radical action to expand the NHS workforce, there is a very real risk that some of the extra funding pledged by the government will go unspent, waiting lists will continue to grow and important improvements to services like mental health and general practice will fail.

“NHS workforce shortages are mirrored in social care where poor pay and conditions continue to drive away staff. Social care is heavily reliant on overseas recruitment, but the government’s post-Brexit migration proposals risk limiting this vital source of workers.”

The NHS already uses other staff to support GPs and the government is looking to recruit another 20,000 staff to help in general practice.

Training places for doctors and nurses will also be increased by 25 per cent.