• Michael Allen, Partner |
5 min read

A lot has been said about the lack of effective workforce planning in the UK healthcare sector and resulting implications in the medium to long term. Without effective workforce planning, the capacity and quality of care will both be affected.

In the last blog, we described the workforce shortage in the NHS and underlying issues that need to be addressed. Changes in how healthcare staff work, and the increasing role of technology should be front of mind for leaders as they plan ahead. However, many leaders’ understanding of this impact is limited. 

And it begins with asking questions at the granular level. How will AI change what pathologists and radiologists do on a daily basis? How will new technology change the time demands placed on nursing staff? How will digital technology transform the middle and back office functions of the NHS? How can staff be better equipped with digital skills? For deeper insight on these questions related to the workforce, KPMG has worked with Faethm, a SaaS AI platform, on an analysis.

Our model considered the level of individual jobs, broken down into tasks. With an extensive database of over 5,000 jobs, further divided into over 24,000 tasks, the model looks at the effect of 16 different technologies on those tasks. It can provide detailed analysis and insight on how over 6,000 job roles in the NHS will be impacted over the next five years.

Here are some of the most important takeaways:

1) Automation and augmentation will reduce and reshape job roles

Technology is changing how the public interacts with healthcare staff and how care is delivered. At the same time there’s no substitute for human care, compassion and empathy. The Faethm model distinguishes between tasks and roles which will be automated and those which will be augmented. Automation eliminates any need for staff while augmentation releases time or improves quality, allowing them to focus on other more value adding tasks. Robotic surgery is a prominent example of augmentation.

Widespread automation will have varying impact on the full-time equivalent (FTE) staff of nearly 1.9 million employed in the UK healthcare sector. Our analysis using Faethm estimates that as much as 17.1 percent of what nurses currently do will be automated by 2031. This includes tasks such as record keeping or the preparation of sterile rooms and equipment. Over the same period 15.3 percent of their work would benefit from augmentation. Such a change will have material implications for the 330,000 whole time equivalent (WTE) nurses in the NHS and overall workforce planning.

There will be a greater impact on administrative roles. Predictions using Faethm show 25-35 percent of NHS administrative work and 40 percent of current NHS finance work will be automated by 2026. In total, this equates to 75,000 FTEs or 6 percent of the entire workforce.

More broadly our analysis shows 8.4 percent of work currently performed in the NHS will be automated over the next five years, rising to 17.8 percent by 2031. This equates to the work of 109,000 FTE over five years and 230,180 FTE over 10 years, generating recurrent savings of over £3.5 billion. The impact of augmentation technologies will be less, but still material, with 2.2 percent of time released in five years’ time, and 5.8 percent in 10 years. Leaders will need to think ahead and help define career paths for people in such job positions.

As the pace of technological development and adoption accelerates so does the importance of understanding its impact and the consequences of not doing so. 

2) The need for training in a digital world

The risk of failing to train staff for new roles in a more digital and technology-driven environment is a real one. There is significant scope for retraining and redeployment in healthcare which will require sophisticated understanding and planning. However, this is only possible if the impacts are understood first.

Any workforce plan that does not include the impact of technology is severely limited; yet according to a recent study by Gartner, only 20 percent of CEOs believe they have a sufficient strategy to address the impact of technology on their workforce. This figure is even lower in the NHS. Training too many or too few people for roles is the result of failing to understand and plan for the impact of technology.

It is imperative that organisations start effective workforce planning now, including retraining and redeploying affected staff to avoid redundancies. Forward-leaning leaders in the sector understand the case for digital solutions and training to improve outcomes and savings. Delay on this front will inevitably lead to gaps that will be too costly to close.

3) Accounting for second order effects and workforce needs

The use of technology has important but not so obvious implications. Our analysis shows that it may reverse years of good work on diversity and inclusion. This is largely because the job roles with the greatest potential for automation are those dominated by women, BAME and part-time staff. Thus, reskilling and upskilling the workforce to retain diversity gains becomes critical.  

Evolving workforce needs also need to be accounted for. The clinical workforce has shouldered enormous stress while managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Going forward, designing jobs in a way that lets staff focus on their wellbeing ought to be a priority for leaders. Such design of job roles and policies will be an indicator of how an organisation values its employees.

Without factoring for future changes and implementing necessary workforce plans, the NHS will be restricted in its ability to adapt and thrive.

To discuss any of the aspects of future workforce planning, feel free to reach out to me at Michael.Allen@kpmg.co.uk


Dean Royles is President of the Healthcare People Management Association

Dr Charlotte Refsum is a GP and Lead Researcher of Human – Solving the global workforce crisis in healthcare

John Rogers is General Manager – Global Partner Network at Faethm