The NHS is facing ‘the biggest workforce crisis’ in its history, which puts patients at serious risk of harm, an influential group of MPs warns today.
In its report, the Commons’ cross-party health and social care select committee slams the ‘lack of a credible government strategy’ on NHS-wide staffing shortages and criticizes ministers for delaying a plan that , according to him, is urgently needed to close critical gaps in almost all areas. of care.
The hard-hitting report includes evidence showing the staffing crisis in England’s NHS is even worse than official figures suggest. Figures from NHS Digital suggest the service has vacancies for 38,972 nurses and 8,016 doctors. However, the actual numbers could be as high as 50,000 and 12,000 respectively, according to Nuffield Trust estimates prepared for MPs.
The trust’s analysis agrees with the view of many frontline doctors and managers that some positions are not advertised, and therefore not supported by the statistical agency, because hospitals cannot afford to hire them. provide, even if suitable doctors or nurses are identified.
“We are now facing the biggest manpower crisis in history in the NHS and in social care, with no idea how many more doctors, nurses and other professionals we really need. need,” said Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary – and failing Tory. leadership contestant – who chairs the committee.
Overworked and often exhausted NHS staff who are still recovering from the Covid pandemic ‘know there is no silver bullet to this problem, but we should at least give them assurance that a plan is in place. in place. This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.
The NHS is emerging as a key issue in the contest between former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister.
Over the weekend, Sunak highlighted the backlog of 6.6 million patients in NHS care, the long delays patients face in getting care and the growing number of people being forced to pay for treatment private “with a gun to his head”. He said the state of the health service is now a national emergency and its growing failure to provide fast, high-quality care is so serious the service could “break”.
Truss has pledged to scrap the 1.25% hike in National Insurance – the ‘health and care tax’ – which started in April and is expected to bring in £12billion a year, mostly for the NHS. His pledge raised questions about how the government would properly fund the service.
The committee’s findings will prove uncomfortable for both candidates, particularly its warning that chronic understaffing is a threat to patients and healthcare professionals.
“Persistent understaffing in the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety in both routine and emergency care. It also costs more because patients present later with more severe disease,” the report said.
“While shortages in any area pose risks to patient safety, they are particularly pressing in maternity wards,” the MPs add. They point out that the government last year accepted their recommendation that the NHS in England needs 2,000 more midwives and 500 more obstetricians in order to provide care that experts consider safe, given the associated risks. at childbirth.
“However, despite this, the NHS in England lost 552 midwives between March 2021 and March 2022. We have asked the Secretary of State for a deadline by which the shortfall will be resolved, but no date has yet been set. .” Pregnant women need this recruitment to take place so they can “trust that their maternity services are heading to safety.”
MPs praise the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for making progress towards delivering the 50,000 extra nurses by 2024 that Boris Johnson promised in 2019. However, they also point to the admission of the former Health Secretary Sajid Javid that another key NHS promise – to increase the number of GPs by 6,000 by the same date – will not be met.
They criticize the government’s “refusal to do proper workforce planning” and its “marked unwillingness to act decisively” despite the gravity of the situation. Javid promised last year to produce an outline of an NHS staffing plan by this spring, but it has not appeared and is now due out later this year. It is also unclear whether he will include plans to hire a specific number of additional staff.
Sam Higginson, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust, said in a recent interview that he was operating with an 11% vacancy rate.
Amid a series of recommendations for action, MPs are urging the Treasury to overhaul rules around doctors’ pensions, issues experienced doctors are working less with than they otherwise would – or even quitting. ‘It is a national outrage that experienced doctors are being forced to reduce their professional contribution to the NHS or leave it entirely because of NHS pension arrangements,’ they say.
Responding to the committee’s findings, a DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We greatly appreciate and value the dedication and contribution of NHS and social care staff. We are increasing the health and social services workforce, with more than 4,000 more doctors and 9,600 nurses compared to last year, and more than 1,400 more general practitioners compared to March 2019.
“As we continue to deliver on our commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024, we are also running a £95m recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500m to grow our valuable hand. -social care work, including through training opportunities and new career paths.
“We have tasked NHS England with developing a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff as they deliver safe, high-quality care to patients and help eliminate backlogs of covid.”