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NHS recovery plan will be ‘impossible’ if workforce issues not addressed, says BMA

by Beth Gault
9 March 2022

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The health secretary’s NHS recovery plan has ‘omitted the most fundamental element’ of workforce, which will make enacting the plan ‘impossible’, according to the BMA.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that the Government had failed to address chronic workforce shortages and that it must prioritise recruitment and retention, otherwise patient care will ‘continue to suffer’.

It comes after the health secretary, Sajid Javid, set out his NHS Road to Recovery plan yesterday (8 March), which stated the NHS would have a new focus on prevention with primary care at its ‘heart’.

Though Mr Javid recognised that primary care was ‘far too stretched’ and said that the DHSC and the NHS would ‘work together to look at where barriers can be removed and incentives improved to focus on prevention’, he did not include specific plans to tackle the workforce issue.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘As of December 2021, more than 110,000 posts in hospitals are vacant, almost 8,200 of which are medical posts. In general practice, the Government is set to miss its target to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2025, with England having lost the equivalent of 1,608 fully qualified full-time GPs in the last seven years alone.

‘Meanwhile the BMA estimates England has a shortage of around 46,300 doctors when compared with the average doctor to population ratios of our most comparable EU neighbours.

‘Without a proper and transparent workforce strategy the secretary of state’s vision to encourage patients to change their care provider to reduce their wait will ultimately fail.’

Short-term solutions to long-term problems

Dr Nagpaul added that it would be a ‘tragedy’ if the Government chose to overturn the House of Lords’ amendment on workforce planning in the Health and Care bill, which they ruled on this week. The amendment would require the Government to publish workforce projections.

‘Fundamentally, the public will want to see the additional investment from the health and care levy being invested in frontline staff. Many will therefore be concerned to see that for the almost £36bn promised over the next three years for health and social care spending, nothing has been mentioned in today’s plan about how to boost staffing,’ said Dr Nagpaul.

‘In addition, there remains a complete lack of clarity about what will happen for NHS funding after those three years. The NHS is currently facing a financial cliff-edge as that money transfers to deliver social care, with the Government once more offering short-term solutions to long-term problems.’

Head of policy at the Health Foundation, Hugh Alderwick, agreed that the ‘biggest challenge facing the NHS right now is chronic staffing shortages’, and that a fully funded workforce strategy was ‘essential’.

He also warned that the measures to increase patient choice were ‘no replacement’ for having enough staff and capacity to deliver services, after the health secretary said patients waiting for secondary care treatment would be given the ‘right to choose’ their provider to help tackle the Covid backlog.

Mr Javid’s review of primary care – which was supposed to be announced at the end of February – was expected to form part of the announcement but was not mentioned.