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Workforce shortages more harmful than budget constraints

by Alice Harrold
20 January 2017

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Workforce shortages are even more of a threat to the health service than financial pressures, a House of Lords Select Committee has been told.

In written evidence to the select committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS, Candace Imison, director of policy at the Nuffield Trust, said “serious and growing gaps” in NHS staff will “threaten the quality of care”.

Imison added that staff pressures are undermining the delivery of new models of care as shortages are the worst in areas that require new workforce expansion.

While there has been investment in workforce training, little has been spent on “skills and capacity to plan develop and manage” staff.

Imison called for an improvement to workforce planning to make it more flexible and said making better use of technology to support better working and increase productivity would give considerable benefits.

She said that the NHS could either become a “technology heaven”, in which digital innovations build efficiency, or a “technology hell” wherein clinicians are tied to computers and patients are “overburdened” with self-care. However, she acknowledged any solution to staff shortages would be hindered by financial pressures on the NHS.

The select committee, chaired by Lord Patel, is investigating the sustainability of the NHS over the next 15 to 20 years and has spoken to, among others, the head of NHS England Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson, as well as the health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The committee is due to report back to the House of Lords by 31 March 2017.

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