Worst NHS workforce crisis puts patients at 'serious risk', damning report warns

25 July 2022, 06:51 | Updated: 25 July 2022, 08:59

Persistent understaffing in the NHS is creating a serious risk to patient safety, MPs have said in a damning report.
Persistent understaffing in the NHS is creating a serious risk to patient safety, MPs have said in a damning report. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The worst NHS workforce crisis in history is putting patients and staff at "serious risk", MPs have warned in a damning report.

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In a new report by the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, research by the Nuffield Trust shows maternity services are "under unsustainable pressure", while the number of full-time equivalent GPs also fell by more than 700 over three years to March 2022.

The study says there is a shortfall of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives, and the Government has "no credible plan" to improve the workforce crisis.

Projections suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade.

"In the face of this, the Government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively," the report said.

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"The workforce plan promised in the spring has not yet been published and will be a 'framework' with no numbers, which we are told could potentially follow in yet another report later this year."

Health Select Committee Chair Jeremy Hunt told LBC that Brexit "may have had a marginal impact" on staffing in the NHS, while the Covid pandemic is also to blame for doctors returning to work in their home countries.

Mr Hunt told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast there's a "vicious cycle" in the NHS of staff being overworked, reducing their hours, and therefore piling further pressure on their colleagues.

He said "really worrying" staffing issues can't be solved overnight but people want to know the government has a plan.

The long-term solution must involve a plan to increase the numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives that are trained, Mr Hunt said.

MPs said that while some progress has been made towards a target of recruiting 50,000 nurses, the Government is set to miss its target to recruit 6,000 more GPs, as promised in the Conservative Party manifesto.

"The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness.

"But most depressing for many on the frontline is the absence of any credible strategy to address it."

The report said staff are under pressure and the NHS loses millions of full-time equivalent days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression.

"The result is that many in an exhausted workforce are considering leaving - and if they do pressure will increase still further on their colleagues," the study said, adding that some simple things are not in place, such as access to hot food and drink on shifts and flexible working.

Health and Social Care Committee chairman and Tory MP Jeremy Hunt said: "We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.

"NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new prime minister."

The report said almost every part of the NHS was suffering staff shortages.

On maternity, it said 552 midwives left in the last year showing a "clear problem with midwifery retention".

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing's director for England, said the report's findings show "in the starkest of detail the workforce crisis across the whole of health and social care in England".

She said: "That persistent understaffing in all care settings poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety 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.

"Their recommendation that nursing staff should be given a pay rise that takes account of the cost of living crisis should make government rethink the latest pay deal that follows a decade of real terms pay cuts that will force even more to leave the profession."

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of having "utterly failed" to address the crisis.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019.

"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, including through training opportunities and new career pathways.

"We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs."

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