Responding to the publication of the Health and Social Care Committee’s ‘Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic’ report, Dr David Wrigley, BMA deputy council chair, said:
“This wide-ranging and detailed report clearly lays out what a gargantuan challenge the NHS faces. The biggest barrier to tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic is a severe staffing crisis and our calls for improved workforce planning have thankfully been heard. It’s now time for the Government to listen too.
“The report recommends that the Government publish an independent assessment of workforce numbers at least once every two years which we have repeatedly called for. Regular, detailed and public health and care workforce assessments must be made available to include modelling of current and future workforce supply, and population and patient need. It’s only with this kind of transparent and open forecasting that the NHS has a realistic prospect of both recruiting and retaining enough staff to provide the required levels of care in the long term to adequately and safely staff the system.
“We’re also pleased to read how the Health and Social Care Committee has dismissed numerical target-driven approaches, which include setting targets for remote and face-to-face GP appointments. All doctors must be trusted to respond to individual patient need and not be driven by arbitrary bureaucracy. And our calls for honest communication and a commitment to keeping in touch with patients have also been heard, with the report stating that no patient should feel ‘abandoned’ by the NHS, even if their waiting times are extremely long.
“The report also correctly highlights that NHS 111 services have not been utilised to their full potential, and we would echo the call in the report for NHS England to complete and publish an evaluation of NHS 111 call first services as soon as possible, and learn from the findings. We also support the calls for NHS England to significantly invest in digital and tech, including an urgent improvement to basic infrastructure, as this would lead to a potential increase in the NHS’s capacity in both the immediate and much longer term.
“The immense challenges facing the NHS this winter means it’s even more important that doctors and all frontline and clinical staff can devote their time, energy and expertise to the delivery of care and must not be expected to participate in non-essential or back-office programmes. We need to keep our talented doctors working in the NHS and support them in every way we can including ending punitive pension taxation rules which are driving doctors to retire early, prioritising workforce in all winter funding decisions and supporting doctors’ mental and physical wellbeing. This report is a clear indication that the voice of doctors has been heard but we now need the Government to act on these proposals.”