Government has broken pledge to tackle NHS and social-care staffing crisis, independent panel says

Workforce planning an "afterthought" amid "greatest workforce crisis" in NHS and social care history
'Support your NHS workers' sign at protest rally. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

25 Jul 2022

The government has broken its commitment to ensure that the NHS and social care system has enough staff, a panel of MP-appointed experts has found.

The expert panel, which provides regular reports on the Department of Health and Social Care’s progress in meeting its commitments, has claimed workforce planning under the current government is an “unaddressed afterthought”.

A separate report from the Health and Social Care Committee, following its own inquiry into recruitment, training and retention in health and social care, said the government has “refused to do proper workforce planning” and said the sectors were facing the "greatest workforce crisis" in their history.

Set up by the Health and Social Care Committee in 2020, the panel’s latest report is focused on the government’s commitments to ensure there are enough NHS and social care staff; that staff develop the right skills; and to address wellbeing at work issues.

The panel said the lack of workforce planning has led to staff shortages, which have then impacted on the safety of patients and those receiving care.

While the panel found some of the government targets for the health workforce had been met, it said there was “scant evidence” of workforce planning and no evidence that the targets were linked to patient and service need.

The lack of planning and subsequent staff shortages pose a serious risk to staff and patient safety in routine and emergency care and risks undermining plans to tackle the Covid backlog, the report said.

The shortages have also made it more difficult for staff to complete training and have had a negative knock-on effect on staff wellbeing, the experts added.

The report also found that cothe mmitment to adequately staff the health and social care workforce had been “undermined by the notable absence of addressing retention of the workforce”.

Commenting on the report, Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt said persistent understaffing had been “compounded by the absence of a long-term plan by the government to tackle it”.

“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,” he said.

The government has refused to commit to introducing long-term, independent projections of the number of NHS and social care staff needed to tackle workforce shortages. In February, DHSC said it would instead publish a report every five years setting out how workforce planning is organised in England.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value and appreciate the dedication and contribution of NHS and social care staff.  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 £500m 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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