The NHS urgently needs billions of pounds of extra investment to shore up staff numbers, and head off a haemorrhaging of doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers.
The NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and Unison have penned a joint letter to the Prime Minister warning of the ‘very real risk’ that if NHS staff leave a vicious circle will be created where ‘staff vacancies are the greatest threat to the retention of NHS staff’.
The six organisations, which together represent most of the NHS workforce and the organisations who employ them, are calling on the Government to take rapid and speedy ‘action to address the chronic undersupply of NHS staff’, highlighting the ‘compelling case for investment which starts to deliver sustained and impactful increases to workforce numbers by the end of this Parliament.’
They also call on the Government to clearly outline the workforce requirements for delivering the NHS Long Term Plan across different parts of the country, as well to set out the areas of both ‘greatest risk and greatest need’ across the NHS workforce to effectively deliver services to patients and more transparency on which staff groups need to be bolstered.
The representative bodies say the extra funding is needed to ensure staff can deliver and do more for patients as well as covering the additional workforce costs created by the fall-out from COVID-19 fall-out including a national programme of rolling vaccinations and the growing demand for support and treatment for patients with long COVID.
They say additional investment in workforce capacity is imperative to tackling the huge and ballooning elective care backlog – which currently stands at 4.7m – as well as enabling the NHS to deliver on its commitments to patients as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.
Increasing staff numbers will also help to beef up mental health services, where it has been predicted that up to 10 million people – almost a fifth of the entire population – will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of this crisis and the consequent economic downturn.
Elsewhere, the letter asks the Government to be candid about how much it will cost to educate and train more staff, how long this will take and whether new staff will be recruited from the UK or abroad.
It says that, to date, the Government has not developed a plan to address these ‘important questions’ because it ‘has not been able to commit to funding [their] implications’ and calls for this to rectified without delay.
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 the working conditions they have found themselves under during the pandemic, as well as the pressing need to tackle both the long-term impact of the pandemic on people’s physical and mental health and waiting times, means staff the NHS and its people cannot meet the needs of their patients and that we start to see a haemorrhaging of our 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 twelve months.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said: “Improved clarity on workforce planning now would make a huge difference to the way healthcare systems and the staff within them are able to operate in future. This can only be a good thing for patients and the quality of care provided to them in the longer term, and I have no doubt that’s why so many organisations have united in calling for this.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers said:
“NHS staff have delivered for patients this past year. The government now needs to deliver for NHS staff by addressing longstanding workforce shortages. We must see a fully costed and funded national workforce plan, so we stop asking NHS frontline staff to bear an unsustainable workload shift after shift, week after week.
“The plan can’t just cover existing workforce gaps. It must set out the level of staffing needed to make the NHS a great place to work. Currently, the NHS cannot consistently give its staff a reasonable workload and the work life balance they need and deserve. That has to change.”