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What impact will the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan have on universities and our students?

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan aims to drastically increase the number of education and training places available in healthcare professions. What will this mean for universities and your students?

What is the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan? 

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan (LTWP) is 15-year plan to make the NHS more sustainable and increase educational opportunities across the country. A sizeable £2.4 billion will be invested in education and training over the next six years, on top of current education and training budgets. This should increase the number of training places by 27% by 2028/29. Education and training are set to include a combination of traditional undergraduate degrees, postgraduate study and apprenticeship training. Some of the aims of the LTWP are to: 

  • Increase domestic education and training to between 50% and 65% by 2030/31
  • Increase places in medical schools by 60–100% by 2030/31
  • Expand dentistry training places by 40% by 2031/32
  • Increase training places for mental health nursing by 38% by 2028/29 

Take a look at the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan for further details and figures.

Why is the plan needed?

As you will have seen over recent years in the news, the NHS is facing a challenging time with its workforce despite staffing increases over the past decade. Healthcare needs are on the increase in the UK and our population is also expected to increase significantly over the next 15 years. The LTWP is needed to increase capacity, improve staff experience and meet the needs of patients in the 21st century. Our current NHS workforce relies heavily on temporary staffing and international recruitment and this is not guaranteed to be sustainable with increased demand for skilled healthcare staff globally. Domestic education and training will need to more than double by 2030/31 to secure and futureproof the NHS.

What will this mean for the higher education sector?

The domestic routes into the NHS are apprenticeships, undergraduate degrees and postgraduate opportunities. This means the higher education sector will have a huge part to play in increasing the NHS workforce. Existing medical schools will be expanded and new ones will be established. Medical degree apprenticeships will also be introduced to meet a 60–100% increase in places available by 2030/31.

The expansion will focus on both increasing apprenticeship routes and traditional undergraduate courses. As applications to a large proportion of undergraduate healthcare courses exceed the places available, the NHS plan will allow more applicants to progress onto these courses. Where conversion rates are already high, there will be a greater reliance on providing alternative apprenticeship routes. The demand for apprenticeships versus traditional university degree courses will be carefully considered for each profession.

Providing a shorter four-year medical degree programme is on the agenda and students on these courses are expected to make up a substantial proportion of the overall number of medical students. A pilot internship model will be carried out in 2024/25. The aim of this will be to shorten the current undergraduate training time by six months to offer an internship programme to improve preparedness for practice.

Increasing apprenticeship provision will be key to the expansion of many healthcare professions. Apprenticeships are planned to account for 80% of operating department practitioners, therapeutic radiographers and podiatrists. This increase is due to several factors including practicality, accessibility and emerging evidence that continuation and retention rates are higher for apprentices compared to undergraduates. Universities will remain essential to growth in apprenticeships, with many already offering these routes. 

What does this mean for students from less advantaged backgrounds?

Given that people from less advantaged backgrounds are underrepresented in certain healthcare professions, an expansion in the number of training places is likely to be a positive development.

New medical schools are also likely to be established in geographical areas with the greatest staff shortages and unmet healthcare needs. This could provide more opportunities for students locally in socially deprived areas. 

Useful links:

> NHS Long Term Workforce Plan  
> Universities will be at the heart of the NHS workforce plan’s success
> Council of Deans of Health welcomes NHS England’s Long Term Workforce Plan 


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