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Covid-19: MPs open inquiry into NHS staff burnout and workforce shortages

by Awil Mohamoud
31 July 2020

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MPs have launched an inquiry examining workforce burnout across the NHS and social care, and the system’s ability to manage staff stress amid increased pressures during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) said it aims to produce a report showing the levels of staff needed in health and social care to tackle exhaustion and meet future challenges. 

The committee is calling for evidence on how workforce shortages impacted staff well-being and patient care during the pandemic and the areas that need to see recruitment most urgently. 

It is also asking for views on the Government’s current NHS workforce plans, which include 6,000 more doctors in general practice and 26,000 primary care professionals by 2024/25, and on the measures set out in yesterday’s NHS People Plan.

Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said building this report will require ‘a rigorous assessment of the overall numbers that will be needed to deliver services over a 10-year period, and how many people we should be training in order to meet that target.’ 

‘It’s disappointing that the recently announced People Plan has not yet provided this,’ he added.

In the latest BMA survey (9 July) of almost 2,000 GPs, 45% said they were facing work-related mental health issues, such as burnout, depression, anxiety or stress, with most attributing this to the pandemic. 

NHS People Plan 

The NHS People Plan, released yesterday (30 July), outlined a strategy for employers to increase support for NHS staff, particularly in response to Covid-19 pressures, and pledged a number of measures for tackling staff shortages and discrimination.

In response to physical and mental pressures staff have faced during the pandemic, the People Plan asks NHS employers to ensure all staff have access to psychological support services. 

It also encouraged organisations to appoint a wellbeing guardian, for example a Primary Care Network (PCN) clinical director, to look at its activities ‘from a health and wellbeing perspective’. 

Employers should also focus on improving working conditions by providing adequate and appropriate PPE, flu vaccinations, risk assessments for vulnerable staff and tackle any violence or bullying, the report said. 

In terms of boosting the workforce, the plan details how the NHS should build on the ‘unprecedented interest’ in healthcare careers seen during the pandemic, which it said had ‘already translated into higher numbers of applications to education and training’.

The report said the NHS should especially aim to train and recruit into entry-level clinical roles, apprenticeships and non-clinical roles, as well as professions with the highest demand.

Health Education England said it aims to boost the mental health and cancer workforce by offering training grants for 350 nurses to become cancer or chemotherapy specialists, and increasing training places for clinical psychology and child and adolescent psychotherapy by 25%.

It also said it is working with universities ‘to increase over 5,000 undergraduate places from September 2020 in nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and dental therapy and hygienist courses’.


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