The British government announced a “historic” health workforce plan on June 30, aiming to address the chronic shortage of health workers over the next 15 years. The plan foresees an investment of £2.4 billion (over $3 billion) in the next five years, to boost apprenticeships and medical education in England. However, health workers’ organizations and activists have criticized the plan for neglecting workers’ rights.
Activists say the plan doesn’t address the demands of health workers’ trade unions, such as salary increases to meet cuts and freezes implemented over past years. These grievances were what led to the wave of strikes that spread throughout the National Health Service (NHS) in the past months.
Health workers’ organizations agree that improving working conditions and ensuring fair raises for workers is essential to tackle the ongoing health workforce shortage. According to the latest NHS data, there are over 112,000 vacancies in the health system in England. This number could rise to as much as 360,000 unless decisive action is taken immediately. Activists warn that any plan must include a fair salary increase and investment in existing workplaces to retain both old and new workers.
The United Kingdom is not the only country in the Global North that has recently faced the consequences of ignoring health workers’ needs. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that without significant policy changes, the country. will experience a yearly deficit of 203,000 nurses through 2026.