Address ‘chronic undersupply’ of NHS staff, PM told

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In a letter representing 1.4 million NHS staff, Boris Johnson has been warned that the pressure of working in a perpetually understaffed health service is unsustainable and threatens the retention of frontline staff.

Doctors, nurses and managers across the NHS have urged the Prime Minister to devise an urgent plan that will significantly increase the size of the healthcare workforce in England by 2024.

The letter is signed by the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, which between them represent hospital and ambulance trusts, primary care networks and clinical commissioning groups, together with the Royal College of Nursing, British Medical Association, Unison and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the coordinating body medical colleges and faculties.

The letter highlights the “strain and stress placed on NHS services and teams by the vacancies we see across services and roles”. While this was already was the case before the Covid-19 pandemic, the signatories say it “is thrown into stark relief” by the experience of the past 12 months.

“There is a very real risk that these vacancies are the greatest threat to the retention of our people,” says the letter.

Various iterations of the NHS People Plan over the past two years have not been able to properly address the following questions:

  • What the workforce requirements for delivering the NHS Long Term Plan are in each geography within the NHS
  • The areas of greatest risk and greatest need across the NHS workforce both in terms of service delivery and roles
  • The educational, training and infrastructure costs of increasing supply
  • The timescales for increasing supply, and the respective roles of international and domestic markets.

This failure to develop such a plan stems from the government’s inability to commit to funding the implications of these important questions. “Billions in additional investment will be required by the end of this parliament to address these long-standing issues of supply and education,” reads the letter.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We desperately need the government to give the people working in the NHS hope that the gaps in their teams will be filled in the longer term. It is deeply worrying that far too many NHS staff feel that they are unable to do their job properly because they simply do not have enough colleagues to support them.”

This, combined with working conditions during the pandemic and the long-term impact of the pandemic on people’s physical and mental health and waiting times, he added, means people cannot meet patients’ needs and that the health service starts to see a “haemorrhaging” of staff.

“In terms of staffing numbers, the NHS did not go into the pandemic match-fit and this fact has been thrown into even greater relief by the experience of our workforce over the past 12 months.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “This government is committed to supporting the NHS and its staff in the fight against Covid and beyond the pandemic through the NHS People Plan. There are over 6,600 more doctors and 10,900 more nurses working in our NHS, compared to last year, and we are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament.”

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