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MPs reject proposal to increase reporting on NHS workforce numbers

by Jess Hacker
24 November 2021

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MPs have voted against amending the Health and Care Bill to grant greater transparency around workforce numbers in the NHS.

During the third reading for the Bill, MPs last night (23 November) voted  against including an amendment that would see a Government report on NHS staffing produced every two years.

It was voted out by 280 votes to 219.

The amendment had stated that the health secretary ‘must, at least once every two years, lay a report before Parliament describing the system in place for assessing and meeting the workforce needs’ of the health and care sector in England.

It was proposed that this report include an independently verified assessment of staff numbers and a similar assessment on the projected size of the workforce.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt had tabled the amendment earlier this year, after the Bill was first presented to parliament in July.

Commenting on the vote against his amendment, Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Health and Select Committee, said the move ‘would have made sure we train enough doctors and nurses for the future’.

He added: ‘The Bill can still be amended in the Lords so we’ve lost the battle but not the war.’

The Bill as a whole passed its third reading last night, at 294 votes to 244.

‘Squandered’ opportunity

Some healthcare leaders have criticised the outcome.

Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said the Government had ‘squandered this opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to safe staffing in the NHS’.

He noted that there are more than 93,000 staff vacancies in the NHS, while estimates indicate the NHS in England needs an additional 50,000 doctors to meet demand safely.

‘The Health and Care Bill as it stands falls woefully short of detail on workforce planning and this amendment, supported by many influential and expert organisations, would have held the Government to account – ensuring it regularly assessed how many doctors we need now and in the future,’ Dr Wrigleysaid.

Meanwhile, Anita Charlesworth, director of research and the REAL Centre at the Health Foundation, said MPs’ decision to reject the amendment on workforce planning was ‘deeply disappointing’.

She said that long-term workforce planning for the NHS has always been the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of UK health policy, with the country ‘desperately’ needing better investment in training and pay.

While the recent decision to merge Health Education England with NHS England may help coordinate planning, it ‘will not address the growing gap between the demand’ and available staff, she said.

Similarly, the NHS Confederation, who had backed Mr Hunt’s amendment, described the outcome as a ‘failed opportunity’.

It said that as the Bill progresses to the Lords it would work ‘to ensure the views of health leaders are acknowledged in further amendments’.

The ‘controversial’ Bill

The Bill entered its report stage this week, amid criticism over its proposal to divide the NHS into 42 Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), and concerns around new powers granted to the health secretary.

The amendment paper had sought to curb ‘politically driven’ powers that would grant the health secretary the power to intervene in local reconfigurations of NHS services.

It follows a petition to scrap ICSs which was launched in October by campaign group Your NHS Needs You, and now has 90,000 signatures.

This group has claimed that the introduction of ICSs will lead to integrated care boards (ICBs) covering areas that are ‘too large’ to ensure local and public accountability, while also allowing private companies to ‘make decisions on allocating public expenditure’ through their ICB membership.

However, the Government has previously said measures introduced under the Bill will reduce bureaucracy in the NHS.