'Hit the ground running' on NHS workforce, trusts urge next government

27 June 2024

The next government must hit the ground running to stop election pledges being derailed by severe NHS workforce challenges, trust leaders warn today. These include important plans to drive down waiting times and improve patient care.

At the start of another five-day full walkout by junior doctors across England, bringing their total strike days to more than 40 since March 2023, trust leaders are calling for immediate action to address the ongoing pay dispute with medics along with a number of other pressing workforce issues after the general election.

Trust leaders say the next government must make early announcements on resolving industrial action, public sector pay awards for this year and funding posts if the gap between politicians' bold ambitions for health services and the overstretched NHS workforce's ability to deliver them is to be bridged.

Urgent in-tray issues for the new health and social care secretary include:

Healthcare leaders are bracing themselves for strike action by junior doctors which will likely to lead to tens of thousands more appointments and procedures being postponed for patients.

Meanwhile highly valued NHS staff on lower pay bands, from porters and nurses to radiographers and physiotherapists, are feeling the pinch as this year's NHS pay award which was due in April continues to be delayed. Trust leaders are worried this is chipping away at already low morale across the health service.

Nearly one year on from the publication of the first Long Term Workforce Plan for the NHS, workforce vacancies across the NHS in England remain stubbornly high more than 100,000 with surveys showing stress, anxiety and depression as the top reasons for staff absences in the face of heavy workloads.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive, NHS Providers, said:

"A week before the country goes to the polls, patients are likely to see tens of thousands more appointments postponed on top of the 1.5m operations, scans and other care hit by industrial action across the NHS since December 2022.

"All parties have put the NHS high on the political agenda with pledges to cut waiting times and give patients greater access to care. None of this can be achieved, though, without a thriving NHS workforce.

"Staff are the lifeblood of the NHS but almost a year on from publication of the long-term workforce plan, trusts are still grappling with staff burnout and lots of unfilled jobs. Failure to resolve strike action by junior doctors has caused huge disruption to patient care.

"It's vital that the next government hits the ground running, investing in the workforce to restore staff confidence and reset the relationship with NHS employees. Otherwise political ambitions are at risk of being beyond reach."