Home » News/Views » Planning for the wider healthcare team

Planning for the wider healthcare team

Modern healthcare is entirely reliant on teamwork. And the Long Term Workforce Plan does aim to be comprehensive. It sets targets for recruitment to roles in pharmacy, dentistry, allied health professions, psychological services and healthcare scientists.

Healthcare scientists, for example, provide the scientific backbone of the NHS as their work underpins 80 per cent of all diagnoses. They also support high-quality research and are important for technological innovation.

Recent discussions about artificial intelligence in health care are a reminder that staff will need to be trained for roles which did not exist five years ago.

The ambition set out in this Plan is to increase training places for healthcare scientists by 32 per cent to over 1,000 places by 2031–32. That might seem like a small number compared with the tens of thousands of training places needed in nursing (and may be one of the reasons for some of the current delays in diagnosis and other aspects of care). But an expansion of a third will be hard to achieve, given that young people with science qualifications will be in demand from other sectors.

The plan discusses increasing apprentice training routes for all healthcare roles. This makes more sense for some kinds of jobs than others, but even so no one knows how well apprentice training will work.

Commenting on this suggestion for medicine the British Medical Association said, “Approaches such as medical apprenticeships and accelerated degrees are also untested, so we have concerns about their role in addressing the crisis.”

And for many staff already employed in healthcare support worker roles, gaining a higher qualification while continuing to earn a salary could be a much more logical route than taking on student debt.

But in nursing, apprenticeships might well prove valuable. The Plan points to emerging evidence showing that “apprentices are less likely to leave training compared to those in traditional undergraduate training programmes”.

Drop-out rates for all current cohorts of the registered nurse degree apprenticeship programmes are 4 per cent, as against over 15 per cent for traditional nursing undergraduate and postgraduate courses, the plan notes.

That is not in itself any kind of reflection on the type of training. But it is a clear indication that addressing student finance – and scrapping fees for trainee nurses – needs to be the first point in the NHS’s retention  strategy. It would go a long way towards ensuring that students can afford to continue studying and don’t leave before they have even begun their careers in the service.