Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service organisations across England, said he fears staff will flee the health service unless measures are taken to improve pay and conditions.
Writing for the Guardian, Dickson issued a stark warning over the future of the health service.
He said: “Given the financial and demand pressures on the service in recent years, some pay restraint has been necessary and inevitable, but it is also obvious there will be a limit on how far this can be taken before it affects recruitment and morale.
“Finding frontline nurses to staff wards is a common problem with time wasted trying to fill rotas and, in spite of some heroic efforts, too much money spent on agencies and locum staff, with the NHS continuing to spend £250 million per month on agency staff.
“And unless we deal quickly and effectively with the plight of EU nationals working here and sort out our future policies on migration, the shortages will become more serious.”
Dickson said “radical change and imagination is required” to find a solution to the problems currently facing the NHS.
He said: “More doctors and nurses in key areas will be part of the answer, including training more of our own, but we also need new types of staff to meet patients’ changing needs, new approaches to training and greater flexibility within all professions to meet a rapidly changing world.”
In March it was announced that health workers ranging from doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives to cleaners and porters would receive just a 1% pay rise, angering union leaders.
The Government said it had accepted recommendations from Pay Review Bodies (PRB) for increases in the coming year and that it was “pleased” to offer the salary increase.
Unions reacted with fury, saying the rise was “derisory”, especially as fuel, food and transport costs were increasing, the Press Association reported.
A subsequent report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS acknowledged a “prolonged period of pay restraint” faced by health workers.
Peers said ministers should review pay policy for NHS staff and the impact it has on workforce morale.