The shape of the UK health workforce | NCFE

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The shape of the UK health workforce

Craig Wade, Sector Manager for Health Science and Social Care at NCFE 

The NHS is the UK’s largest employer, having over 1.1 million full-time workers in 2020. However, the biggest challenge it faces is a workforce shortage. A full workforce is the key to: 

  • Delivering outstanding care at point of service 
  • Reducing patient waiting times 
  • The NHS being the best healthcare system in the world. 


The Health and Care Bill has the opportunity to turn life lessons into learning opportunities for the future. But, with the Bill largely ignoring the future workforce, can we realistically maintain a frustrated and ‘‘burnt out’’ workforce, when it appears not to be a long-term focus? 

Retaining our current workforce must remain a priority. The NHS must rejuvenate efforts to recruit across all professions. The pandemic has seen professionals from other sectors move into healthcare roles, with a 4% increase in adult and children’s nursing in the last two years. We have to ask why other healthcare roles aren’t seeing the same levels of interest.  

This highlights the urgent need to recruit now, and widely, to make sure we can fulfil all sector professionalisms. We need to capitalise on the NHS’s current spotlight to secure its future workforce, whether through further and higher education graduate opportunities, international recruitment when travel permits and, most importantly, offering progression to ensure the current workforce can move into higher positions. 

Remote working opportunities 

One of the few encouraging outcomes  of the pandemic is the remote working that many employers were forced to adopt, and now have no plans to reverse as restrictions ease. Productivity and staff morale has increased, with work-life balance becoming the emerging positive from all that we have endured.  

How can frontline staff adopt opportunities for agile and remote working? This isn’t always possible in patient-facing roles (with the exception of e-consultations), but offering more variety in roles, job-sharing, and opportunities to work remotely where possible will be attractive to many working in health.  

We need to acknowledge and thank our health workers for their continuing commitment and support. It’s important for the NHS to be a modern, flexible employer to retain these highly skilled staff.  

Introducing T Levels 

Education is one of the key pillars that will allow retention and recruitment into the sector. As T Levels in Health and Science commence from September 2021, we will have a dedicated and highly skilled workforce emerging over the next few years.  

But before we see the positive impacts of the T Levels, we need to invest in our current workforce through offering opportunities to expand on growth through additional continuing professional development (CPD) or retraining to make sure investment equals retention.  

We have decades of knowledge and skills and we cannot clinically, morally or ethically afford to lose our NHS workforce after the commitment they continue to offer on a daily basis, protecting the nation’s health.