Government criticised for ‘fundamental failure’ over NHS workforce

7 Nov 17

NHS Providers has accused the government of “a fundamental failure at a national level” to ensure it has adequate staffing.

Some of its member providers – hospitals, mental healthcare providers, and community and ambulance services – face an unsustainable workforce gap, the organisation warned in a report out today.

The supply of qualified healthcare staff is inadequate, NHS Providers said, and providers were struggling to retain their existing staff.

Government's freeze on health workforce pay is partly to blame, according to its report, which stated that “recruiting and retaining staff has become more difficult as the jobs get harder, training budgets are cut, and prolonged pay restraint bites”.

Two-thirds of NHS bosses were worried that recruiting and retaining staff poses the greatest threat to delivering high-quality services, the report said.

The body proposed reforms to help close this gap, which included an expansion of medical education to ensure a supply of highly trained staff and reversing cuts to training budgets. It also called on the NHS to continue to recruit from overseas.

This suggestion was backed by 85% of chairs and chief executives at provider trusts, but many feared that attracting overseas staff could become harder after Brexit.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the staff and skills shortages were evidence of “a fundamental failure at national level on workforce strategy”.

“We don’t have enough staff with the right skills and we’re asking far too much of our existing staff,” he continued.

“NHS trust leaders are telling us there are no quick fixes to improve the supply of UK-trained staff, and the outlook for international recruitment is uncertain.” 

“These problems have developed in plain sight, which clearly shows the existing approach is flawed.”

Hopson also demanded that the government “deliver certainty for EU staff”.

At the same time, the Nuffield Trust health charity has warned about the implications for healthcare if the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place – an option being discussed by ministers.

In a briefing, the Nuffield Trust said having no deal “would cause extensive problems for the NHS. It would risk a chaotic disruption to supplies of medical products, and a rise in prices that would push hospitals deeper into deficit.”

Medical procedures provided across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could also be obstructed, the briefing added, and might mean tens of thousands of pensioners return to the NHS for care when it is already overstretched.

The government has previously acknowledged that Brexit could increase pressures on the NHS.

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