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England is facing its most serious health workforce crisis in decades because of poor planning and cuts in training places, academics have warned.
The Council of Deans of Health, which represents 85 university faculties, has urged the incoming government to have longer-term strategic plans for workforce development, in place of yearly targets that are dictated by NHS budgets rather than need.
In a new report, the body calls for a full review of how health higher education is funded and planned in England, and the setting of minimum thresholds for expected workforce need in health and social care, allowing universities greater freedom to recruit above this number.
It also suggests that an incoming government should consider whether students and employers should contribute towards tuition fees.
“We need to ask the hard questions about whether students and/or employers should make a contribution to funding education and we need to address the boom and bust that has dogged workforce planning for years,” it said.
The report, Beyond Crisis: making the most of health higher education and research, says that between 2008/9 and 2012/13 places to study occupational therapy in England were cut by 12%, adult nursing places were cut by 18%, and mental health nursing places were cut by 13%.
The NHS has recruited nearly 6,000 overseas nurses to fill gaps. Shortages of paramedics and prosthetists are so severe that they are now on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List.
More widely across the UK, staff shortages are putting health and social care services under pressure, the report warns.
Currently, the recently-created national workforce planning body Health Education England commissions fully-funded university training places for nurses and other healthcare workers.
Universities can recruit outside of their commissioned training places – by enrolling students who pay for their fees themselves – but the Council of Deans said it would like to see a review of this split system.
The deans have called for healthcare research funding to be protected when the new government makes budget decisions in the next comprehensive spending review.
They also want to see an increase in the number of clinical academics from the allied health, nursing and midwifery professions, with 1 per cent of the registered nursing and midwifery workforce becoming clinical academics by 2030.
“To meet the needs of future patients, the generation of new knowledge and its application in practice must be sustained,” the report says. “Across the UK, this will involve developing more people who are able to work in dual clinical and academic roles.”
The report also calls for better career progression paths for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals and more opportunities for postgraduate study.
In Scotland, the Council of Deans wants to see workforce planning move to a three-year cycle, while in Wales it wants greater focus on the future workforce for primary and community care.
The report coincides with publication of Lord Willis’ Shape of Caring review on the future of nurse education and training.
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