The NHS is at crunch time, with its workforce tested more severely than ever. Its salvation lies in primary care. Angela Sharda, deputy editor of Healthcare Leader, explains. 

It’s no secret that our NHS is under immense pressure, but how long will it be before the people who work behind the scenes begin to crack? The NHS workforce is made up of 1.3 million people, all helping towards building a better healthcare service for Britain.

The NHS turned 69 this year, but as it gets older, it does not seem to become wiser about solving its workforce crisis. The NHS was designed in 1948 by Nye Bevan in an attempt to provide free and accessible healthcare to everyone in Britain but it seems its workforce is increasingly feeling the burn.

Official statistics from NHS England revealed a 16% increase in the number of job vacancies from 2016 to 2017.

A report released by NHS Digital on July 25 found that in March 2017, there were 30,613 vacancies, compared with 26,424 in 2016 and 26,406 in 2015. Then-Chancellor George Osborne introduced the cap on public sector pay in 2012 and it was kept in the 2015 budget, which meant that NHS staff are limited to just a 1% pay increase each year until 2020.

Healthcare professionals in the NHS do an amazing job, often in difficult situations – struggling with increasing demand and long hours. Lack of funding, an overstretched workforce and the prospect of Brexit have helped to build up unhappiness and uncertainty about the future of the NHS, both for those working within it and for the country.

But how do we overcome this? In order to help the workforce, more general support is required.

We need more staff on the front lines. We need more funding from the Government and we need the promises from health secretary Jeremy Hunt to be delivered.

We need a culture embedded across the NHS that appreciates the people that work so hard – the people at the heart of patient care.

Making a workforce happy begins with the basics – a good culture in the workplace, an organisation where employees can express their views, a culture that retains great staff and a strong support system from colleagues.

A stronger and happier environment will help the workforce focus more on their work, which can lead to amazing things – a transformation of patient care.

But this will not be an easy task. The NHS is the fifth biggest employer in the world. We need to work together to achieve this.

As with any profession, pressure can take its toll and the strain can become too much. So support systems need to be stronger. The Government needs to step up and help solve the NHS’s recruitment and retention crisis.

So, this issue of Healthcare Leader is based on the workforce and primary care.

We have an interview with an inspirational woman, consultant surgeon Ms Jyoti Shah, about leadership in the NHS and how she has dealt with many blows from the system.

And the main interview for this edition is with the chief executive of Health Education England, Professor Ian Cumming, on how he intends to tackle the workforce crisis.