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Half of public sector will be NHS staff if workforce plan succeeds

Half of public sector will be NHS staff if workforce plan succeeds
By Jess Hacker
31 August 2023

Almost half (49%) of public sector workers will be employed by the NHS by 2036 if the workforce plan comes together successfully, a thinktank has estimated.

One-in-11 (9%) of all workers in England would be working for the NHS, compared to 6% in 2021-22 and 2009-10.

As of 2021-22, 38% of public sector employees worked for the NHS, up from 29% in 2009-10.

The plan intended to increase the number of staff employed by the NHS from 1.5 million in 20221-22 to up to 2.4 million by 2036-37.

New analysis (30 August) from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has suggested that the plan did not consider the significant ‘medium-term implications’ of such a massive increase in staff for the NHS bill, despite the £2.4bn additional funding allocated to train staff.

Researchers stated that a rapid increase in the workforce would require NHS wages to ‘match or even exceed growth in wages’ in the rest of the economy, and would see an increase in non-staffing spending, such as on drugs and equipment.

The IFS estimates the plan would cost around £50bn which could be funded by an increase in the standard rate of VAT from 20% to 27% by 2036-37 or by increasing all income tax rates by around 6 percentage points.

The IFS said that returning to the NHS’s long-run average funding growth rate (3.6% per year from 1949 to 2023) could be enough to fund the workforce plan, but highlighted this is much higher than the 2.4% per year seen since 2009-10.

Spending on the NHS in England would be around 2% of GDP higher by 2036-37, similar to the increase in health spending in the 15 years to 2008-09 (2.2% of GDP), it said.

Commenting on the findings, Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘We know that the workforce plan will require long term funding if it’s to be rolled out successfully, and health leaders will agree that NHS funding should revert to the long run average growth rate to be in line with the ever-growing demand the NHS faces.’

He added: ‘We have an ageing and growing population, with increasingly complex needs, so it’s vital that funding grows in line with demand. The IFS make clear how much is needed to grow the workforce in the long-term; with every £1 invested in the NHS resulting in a £4 return to the economy, an increase of this scale to fund the additional staffing the NHS needs would be good for both the health service and the well-being of the wider economy.’

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