Virtual Reality: Unlocking NHS’s Long-Term Workforce Plan

The recently published NHS Long Term Workforce Plan outlines an ambitious 15-year strategy to tackle staff shortages and boost recruitment and training numbers across England’s National Health Service. A central component of the plan is expanding medical, nursing, and allied health professional degree programs to increase domestic supply of clinical staff.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan launched in 2023 to address staffing shortages across England’s National Health Service. It aims to boost recruitment and retention of clinical staff to meet demand from a growing and aging population. Key goals include:

  • Increasing medical school spots from 11,000 to 15,000 per year by 2031
  • Growing nursing degree program capacity by 24,000 places per year by 2031
  • Expanding GP specialty training by 50% to 6,000 places annually
  • Introducing more apprenticeship routes into healthcare careers
  • Improving staff retention through career development and flexible working
  • Harnessing technology like AI to increase productivity

The plan sets ambitious targets for expanding the NHS clinical workforce through domestic training pathways. It also aims to reduce over-reliance on overseas recruitment. If goals are met, the NHS could have at least 60,000 more doctors and 170,000 more nurses by 2036. The government has pledged over £2.4 billion in additional funding over 5 years to support the plan.

At i3 Simulations, we believe immersive VR training technology will be essential to effectively scaling clinical education programs and accelerating training completion. By leveraging VR simulations, universities can increase enrollment capacity without being limited by physical lab space and equipment. VR also allows for repeat practice of critical skills in a zero-risk virtual environment.

Research shows VR training improves knowledge retention and accelerates skill acquisition compared to traditional teaching methods. The experiential learning in VR simulations also leads to faster uptake and long-term retention of skills. This increased training efficiency means healthcare programs can train more students on an ongoing basis using VR technology.

The ability to simulate clinical environments reduces reliance on training in busy hospitals where access to real patients is limited. VR training saves significant time and costs compared to traditional simulations which require physical spaces, expensive equipment, and paid actors. In one study, VR showed a 335% increase in cost-utility compared to traditional manikin simulations. The portability and flexibility of VR solutions allow clinical training to scale in a cost-effective manner.

The NHS plan also focuses on recruiting and training more apprentices to create earn-while-you-learn pathways into healthcare careers. VR simulations can provide apprentices with clinical exposure they may not get through workplace training alone. Portable VR headsets mean learning can happen anytime, anywhere at the clinician’s own pace.

For experienced NHS staff, VR training keeps clinical skills sharp through continuing education. By practicing infrequent or high-risk procedures in VR, overall patient safety and outcomes improve. VR training is shown to boost confidence and readiness among experienced nurses returning to practice after extended leave.

At i3 Simulations, our library of VR experiences covers the clinical domains outlined as workforce priorities, including primary care, diagnostics, and community nursing. As the NHS moves to implement this transformative workforce plan, we look forward to supplying VR tools that will strengthen the healthcare workforce at all stages of education and career development.

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i3 Team
An immersive training and education solutions company, specialising in healthcare training using cutting-edge XR technology.