Friday, 12 Aug 2022

Worst NHS workforce crisis in history putting patients at risk, report claims

NHS patient safety is being repeatedly put at risk by persistent understaffing, according to a damning new report.

The health service faces its ‘greatest workforce crisis in its history’, MPs say in the document – blasting the Government for having no credible strategy to improve things.

The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee found that the number of full-time GPs has fallen by more than 700 in the three years to March.

Maternity services are also said to be facing ‘unsustainable pressure’, while research from the Nuffield Trust suggests that in England alone, the NHS is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Finding the workforce to be exhausted, the report concluded: ‘In the face of this, the Government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively.

‘The workforce plan promised in the spring has not yet been published and will be a “framework” with no numbers, which we are told could potentially follow in yet another report later this year.’

But projections included in the committee’s findings suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early 2030s.

While some progress has been made towards recruiting 50,000 nurses, the MPs said that the Government is on track to miss its target to recruit 6,000 more GPs, despite making the promise in the Conservative Party manifesto.

They wrote: ‘The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness.

‘But most depressing for many on the frontline is the absence of any credible strategy to address it.’

Explaining that the NHS loses millions days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression, the report found: ‘The result is that many in an exhausted workforce are considering leaving – and if they do pressure will increase still further on their colleagues.

The study criticised a lack of flexible working and access to hot food and drink on shifts.

But MPs said it was not possible to know whether enough staff are being trained because the Government ‘refuses’ to make workforce planning data public.

Health and Social Care Committee chairman and Tory MP Jeremy Hunt said: ‘We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.

‘NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new prime minister.’

The report said almost every part of the NHS was suffering staff shortages.

On maternity, it said 552 midwives left in the last year showing a ‘clear problem with midwifery retention’.

MPs criticised the Government and NHS England for failing to set out when safe staffing in maternity would be reached – branding it an ‘absolutely unacceptable’ failure that ‘demonstrates a lack of responsibility’.

Elsewhere, more needs to be done on social care worker pay to stop people leaving, the report said.

A separate report by the committee’s panel of independent experts rates the Government’s progress overall to meet key commitments it has made on workforce as ‘inadequate’.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said the report ‘once again highlights the extent of the workforce crisis now facing both the NHS and social care’.

He said presented ‘one of the greatest challenges to the recovery of the economy and the return of safe, high-quality health services for all’.

It also comes amid fears that medical staff could go on strike.

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, agreed that persistent understaffing ‘in all care settings’ posed a serious risk to staff and patient safety.

She called for immediate political action and a pay rise – because it ‘is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent, and travel to work.’

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea criticised ‘years’ of Government failure to address understaffing.

‘Only last week ministers could have acted to stop the exodus of porters, healthcare assistants and other NHS staff with an above-inflation wage rise. But chose not to’, she said.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of having ‘utterly failed’.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice 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 £95 million recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500 million to develop our valued social care workforce, including through training opportunities and new career pathways.

‘We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs.’

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