Two senior NHS HR professionals came under fire from MPs last week as part of a major inquiry into health service workforce planning.
Former Department of Health (DoH) workforce director Andrew Foster, and Sian Thomas, deputy director of NHS Employers, were grilled by the Commons health select committee.
The MPs expressed concern that recruitment targets, especially for nurses, had been “overshot”, leading to the recent spate of organisations cutting posts and freezing recruitment.
Foster admitted that the integration of financial and recruitment planning “has not been as good as it might have been everywhere”. But he said workforce and financial plans had worked alongside each other “quite comfortably” for the past five years.
“I accept that there was a degree of over-heating in the system just in this last year, where people clearly have taken on more [staff] than they could afford,” he said.
But Foster defended the growing numbers of middle and senior managers being employed by the NHS.
“We spend less than 3% of the NHS pay bill on managers, and that compares well with anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Committee member and Labour MP Howard Stoate asked Thomas why best practice in the NHS was still not “normal” practice.
“It is quite right to say that we need to get on with delivering all the changes needed, and that is certainly what we are doing,” she replied.
“[NHS Employers’] role is to try to help employers share, where they can, what they do best and to learn from that.”
The previous inquiry into workforce planning, in 1999, sparked a major overhaul in the NHS, including the introduction of the Agenda for Change pay system.