• Simon Stevens “optimistic” the NHS will get a multiyear capital settlement
  • Moots changes to nurse undergraduate education and helping pharmacists become doctors
  • Brexit readiness now NHS’ “top operational priority”

The NHS will assume that education and training budgets will increase in the next four years as it “shapes” its long-awaited workforce plan, according to chief executive Simon Stevens.

Asked by HSJ about the effect of having no multiyear capital and training budgets on the implementation of the long-term plan, Mr Stevens said he was optimistic that there is “increased understanding of the importance of workforce and education and training budgets”.

He welcomed the government’s one-year spending review this afternoon and said: “We take the Health Education England budget for next year and work on the assumption there will be further growth in the budget in the further four years, and we will use that as we shape the final people plan linked to the long term plan implementation at the end of the year.” 

Mr Stevens also said he was “optimistic” the NHS would get a multiyear capital settlement, but did not comment when asked at what point the delays to the settlements would become untenable.

The NHS long-term plan stated the Chancellor had “confirmed that NHS long-term capital investment will be considered in the 2019 spending review”.

However, a multiyear spending review has been delayed amid political turmoil.

Speaking at the Expo conference in Manchester today, Mr Stevens described the amount given to the NHS in today’s one-year spending review as a “down payment” and should be seen as a “first instalment rather than the end of the line”. 

“I welcome the fact that in the spending review we have got what I would regard a more realistic settlement for education and training budgets for next year,” he said. 

He added he was “particularly pleased” to see the return of continuing professional development for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. 

Addressing the NHS’ workforce challenge, Mr Stevens said the NHS needs to become a more “flexible and permeable” organisation, with “more routes into training required”.

He said: “I think that means we have to look quite hard at alternative, additional models of undergraduate nurse education. I think we have to use some of the new flexibilities we may have if we’re not subject to some of the EU professional regulation rules to think about opportunities for pharmacists, who have done four years of training, if they wish to convert to become a doctor.”

He reiterated that the health service needs to look at how to support staff in parts of the country that “have difficulty recruiting and retaining staff”.

“We have a national health service and we cannot have a situation where individual hospital services are under threat simply because we can’t get staff to work there,” he said.

Mr Stevens also said Brexit readiness is now the NHS’ “top operational priority” during the next two months.

He said the NHS had done “tremendous work” to “prepare for any eventuality”, and added there was recognition that the NHS has a “heavy reliance” on an “effective transport, logistics, border and customs infrastructure” to ensure the continued supply of medicines and services to patients.

NHSE will this week start visiting trusts across England to check they have prepared enough for a potential no-deal Brexit.