A report from The King’s Fund think-tank has claimed that in the next five years nurse shortages will double and GP gaps could potentially nearly triple to 7,000.
The analysis, in partnership with Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, also found that as many as 62% of GPs now take early retirement, up from 33% in 2011/12, consequently suggesting that the service must look to other professionals to carry out some of the work.
Furthermore, the report states that international staff - who already make up 13% of the NHS hospital and community services - are the only realistic short-term lever for dealing with current widespread vacancies.
The NHS Long Term Plan has committed to reaching just 5% nursing vacancies by 2028. In light of this goal, The King’s Fund recommend that the NHS delivers a step change in the ethical recruitment of international nurses, with a view to recruiting an average of 5,000 international full-time nurses a year to 2023/24 into the NHS.
Responding to the report, Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS faces a severe staff shortage and workforce is our number one concern. This report is an authoritative, evidence-based review and, while making for sobering reading, it does show that a way forward to creating a sustainable, team-based general practice and nursing workforce is possible.
“In particular, the recommendations to expand teams to best use GPs, nurses and primary care professionals is timely and should focus the minds of local leaders currently developing their Primary Care Networks. However, while necessary, international recruitment on a mass scale reflects a failure of national strategic planning.
“In the longer-term the NHS Confederation would strongly support devolving powers for workforce development to the emerging Integrated Care Systems. Funding is clearly critical to this, however thought should be given to how money is best used to support local system leaders to shape decision-making rather than more of the same.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, also responded to the report.
"We agree with the writers of this report that the GP workforce faces significant challenges but we disagree that these are insurmountable. We must not, under any circumstances, give up on our aims and endeavours to build the GP workforce – achieving these is vital for the future of the NHS, and patient care.
"The NHS long term plan has aspirations that will benefit patients, but it will need the right workforce to deliver it, and that includes at least 5,000 more family doctors."