Over 100 health and care organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, have signed a letter to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt in support of publishing the NHS long-term workforce plan in full – including assessments of how many staff will be needed to keep pace with demand.
The signatories to the letter first came together as the #StrengthInNumbers campaign during the passage of the Health and Care Act to support an amendment for stronger workforce planning that was also backed by Hunt as Chair of the Health and Social Care select committee.
The letter reads:
Re: NHS long-term workforce plan
We are writing as a coalition of over 100 health and care organisations in support of publishing the NHS long-term workforce plan in full – including assessments of how many staff will be needed to keep pace with demand, which we believe will enable smarter long-term investment in the workforce.
With 7.1 million people currently on NHS waiting lists in England, there can be no doubt that urgent action is required to put the NHS on a firm footing. But as you will be only too aware, workforce is the key limiting factor in bringing down waiting lists and restoring timely access to care. There are currently 132,000 full-time equivalent vacancies in the NHS, a 25% increase from quarter 4 of 2021/22, and an estimated 165,000 vacant posts in social care. On average each GP looks after 16% more patients than they did in 2015.
The NHS long-term workforce plan that the government has committed to deliver is a vital opportunity to address endemic staff shortages and increase supply. The workforce strategy must be published in full, including numbers of how many staff will be needed to keep pace with demand, alongside a commitment to provide the necessary funding. We ask that you and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care produce a timeline for publication.
As you will remember, our over 100 organisations first came together during the passage of the Health and Care Act to call for regular, independent assessments of how many health, public health and social care staff would be needed now and in future to keep pace with demand. We welcomed your support and backing for that call as Chair of the Health and Social Care select committee. Our organisations continue to believe that projections of future demand and supply would provide the strongest foundation for strategic workforce planning and support HM Treasury to make better long-term decisions about spending on health and social care in England.
Current shortages are leading in part to additional costs to the public purse as locums and agency staff are employed to plug gaps. £7.1bn was spent on agency and bank staff in hospitals in England in 2020/21 alone, up from £6.2bn the year before. Strategic increases in substantive staff would reduce reliance on locums and agency staff and provide cost savings in the long-run.
Overstretched staff picking up extra workload created by vacancies are also more likely to experience stress and burnout, with significant implications for both the retention of staff and the safety, quality and continuity of care for the public.
The country faces significant challenges: an ageing population, more people unable to work due to long-term sickness or reliant on long-term care, and long-standing regional and specialty shortages. But these are challenges that we can begin to address if we act now.
Investment in the NHS and social care is critical to a healthy population which is central to economic growth – but staff shortages mean that the roughly 13% of the population in England currently on waiting lists will spend longer waiting, risking further deterioration to their health.
A well-resourced health and social care workforce is central to enabling the NHS and local authorities to make the best use of public money and providing tax-payers with timely access to high quality health and social care. All successful organisations do workforce planning to ensure they can meet demand. The NHS and social care system should be no exception.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how we can work together to deliver the Prime Minister’s pledge to deliver a stronger NHS.