NHS in England facing worst staffing crisis, MPs warnon July 24, 2022 at 11:39 pm

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The large number of unfilled NHS job vacancies is posing a serious risk to patient safety, MPs say.

NHS staff posters on a wallImage source, Getty Images

The large number of unfilled NHS job vacancies is posing a serious risk to patient safety, a report by MPs says.

It found England is now short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives, calling this the worst workforce crisis in NHS history.

It said a reluctance to decisively plug the staffing gap could threaten plans to tackle the Covid treatment backlog.

The government said the workforce is growing and NHS England is drawing up long-term plans to recruit more staff.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care select committee that produced the report, said tackling the shortage must be a “top priority” for the new prime minister when they take over in September.

“Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long-term plan by the government to tackle it,” he said.

The cross-party committee saw evidence that, on current projections, almost a million new jobs will need to be filled in health and social care by the early part of the next decade.

Extra staff would be needed to keep up with rising demand as the population gets older and healthcare becomes more complex and technologically advanced.

The health services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have faced similar staffing pressures.

A ‘national scandal’

The committee also heard evidence from former health secretary Sajid Javid, who resigned earlier this month, that the government was not on track to deliver its manifesto commitment to increase the number of GPs in England by 6,000.

There was concern about maternity services with more than 500 midwives leaving the health service between March 2021 and March 2022.

It described a situation where NHS pensions arrangements meant some senior doctors were better off retiring or reducing their working hours as a “national scandal” and called for swift action to change the rules.

Maternity nurse with a patient

Image source, Getty Images

It said conditions were “regrettably worse” in social care with 95% of care providers struggling to hire staff and 75% finding it difficult to retain existing workers.

“Without the creation of meaningful professional development structures, and better contracts with improved pay and training, social care will remain a career of limited attraction even when it is desperately needed,” the report said.

It called for HMRC to be more proactive in enforcing the minimum wage amid concerns that 17,000 care workers were paid below the legal rate of £9.50 an hour.

Miriam Deakin, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospitals, mental health trusts and ambulance services, said that many staff were facing “unsustainable” workloads in the face of “ever-growing demand”.

“The answer is staring everyone in the face: the government must come up with a fully-funded, long-term workforce plan for the NHS,” she said.

Patricia Marquis, England director at the Royal College of Nursing, said the risk to staff and patients from low staffing levels should “shock ministers into action.”

“On pay the committee was very clear saying it is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent, and travel to work,” she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the number employed in healthcare was now growing and NHS England had been asked to develop a long-term plan to recruit and retain more staff.

“As we continue to deliver on our commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024, we are also running a £95 million recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500 million to develop our valued social care workforce,” he said.

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