Government can't afford to squander once in a decade opportunity to secure NHS workforce plan

01 March 2022

Following his oral evidence session to the health and social care committee today on Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson said:

"NHS trust leaders are clear that their biggest problem, by far, is workforce shortages.

"Despite the efforts of those on the frontline, these shortages are driving the serious issues we're seeing in urgent care. They're slowing down the speed at which the NHS can recover care backlogs across all services. They're creating impossible workloads for existing NHS staff, and they’re forcing too many of them into growing levels of staff sickness or into leaving the service altogether.

"In the last fortnight alone, we've seen far too many newspaper stories pointing to major shortages of anaesthetists, nurses, GPs, psychiatrists, maternity staff and radiologists. This isn't just a few specialities or grades of staff, it's shortages across the entire NHS workforce.

"The government's response is to keep pointing to record numbers of doctors and nurses in the NHS workforce. But demand for health and care is growing rapidly and without a proper, rigorous, long term workforce plan, we simply do not know how many extra staff we will need.

"That's why 100 different health and care organisations – including NHS Providers – and former NHS leaders such as Jeremy Hunt, Simon Stevens and Dido Harding are adamant that the NHS desperately needs a long term workforce plan.

"But the government is still, stubbornly, refusing to accept this.

"This is incredibly short sighted. It is forcing the NHS to spend billions of pounds on agency and locum staff every year when we could be investing in growing the larger, permanent, workforce we desperately need. The Health Foundation predicts we will need a million extra health and care staff by 2031.

"We are now in an extraordinary position where the NHS is calling for a long term workforce plan to increase taxpayer value for money but the treasury is refusing.

"The Health and Care Bill offers us a once in a decade opportunity to ensure the NHS produces a regular, independently verified, workforce plan. For the sake of patients, the NHS workforce and the health service, the government cannot afford to squander this opportunity."