The number of people living with cancer is growing and we need a costed plan to sustain and grow the NHS workforce, argues Fran Woodard.
This is a critical time for the future of healthcare in England and will determine the quality of cancer care for years to come.
Crucial to ensuring that the NHS has a workforce fit for the future will be addressing the workforce challenges in the upcoming NHS long-term plan, with funding being discussed at this very moment.
News that an additional £3.5bn will be invested in primary and community care is a positive step in the right direction, but it’s vital that the care a patient receives in and outside of the clinical setting is completely joined up.
It is absolutely vital that people are fairly rewarded for what they do and that their expertise and skill is valued in order to motivate them to stay in the profession
We need to make sure that future investment prioritises the personalisation of care so that all patients’ needs, from practical support for those coping with the side effects of treatment to help managing the financial impact of cancer, are effectively coordinated.
The number of people living with cancer is growing and we need a costed plan to sustain and grow the NHS workforce so that there are appropriate staffing levels with the right mix of skills to care for them and relieve the current pressure on doctors and nurses.
Worryingly, the Royal College of Nursing warned earlier this week that we could have up to 42,000 nursing vacancies in England by 2026 – that’s a significant shortfall that would result in a real gap in expertise and support on the frontline. For hospitals, retaining staff has become as big a challenge as recruiting them in recent years.
It is incredibly tough out there at the moment and it is essential we train and support staff to be able to offer high quality, personalised care for people in challenging circumstances.
It is absolutely vital that people are fairly rewarded for what they do and that their expertise and skill is valued in order to motivate them to stay in the profession.
Recruitment has not kept pace with the number of staff leaving and, in the face of projected demand, will fall behind even further without urgent action. The removal of the student nursing bursary has been damaging and it is essential that new packages of financial support for student nurses are implemented to help boost student recruitment.
Concrete measures needed
Cancer not only needs more investment to tackle workforce issues, but also concrete measures in the upcoming NHS long-term plan to do so. None of the ambitions for service transformation or improved care can remotely be made a reality without investing in the workforce.
It’s also crucial we develop a wider mix of skills amongst staff who are currently practicing and make sure that the post-Brexit immigration system continues to ensure access to our workforce from overseas. In the long-term, it is essential we tackle recruitment issues and in the short and medium terms, absolutely vital we do more to retain staff.
An investment strategy that truly focuses on workforce must embrace technology in order to help us deliver person-centred care as efficiently as possible, but we must not lose our focus
Whatever the solution, it’s essential that we work out how to make the most of the wealth of irreplacable experience in the workforce built up through decades of working in the NHS. RCN data also showed that the average age of retiring nurses has dropped from 54 to 51. That is three years’ worth of talented, dedicated nursing experience being taken out of the workforce, and a trend we need to reverse.
Creating hybrid roles or flexible working patterns for healthcare professionals who have retired could ensure we increase workforce capacity and address long-term support issues facing NHS staff. It’s essential that we find ways to facilitate more mentoring and coaching opportunities for younger staff and deepen the well of skills to draw from.
We were unsurprised to see the recent IPPR polling which revealed that more investment in cancer care was what the public most wanted to see funded through the NHS plan, with digital innovations ranked the least important. However, this betrays the importance of using technology to make NHS services more efficient.
It’s unacceptable that we still have hospital IT systems that cannot communicate with general practice and community services. After all, it is GPs who often send patients to hospital in the first place – let alone work with social services and care homes. Technology must play a vital linking role in helping to ensure care services, both in clinical and non-clinical settings, are joined up, prevents duplication and keeps patients safer.
An investment strategy that truly focuses on workforce must embrace technology in order to help us deliver person-centred care as efficiently as possible, but we must not lose our focus.
At the heart of all this is people – both the people who make up the cancer workforce and the people they care for who are living with the disease. It is for these people that the upcoming NHS long-term plan must deliver the change which has been promised and is desperately needed, today.