The worst NHS staffing crisis in its history is putting patients at serious risk, MPs warn

The NHS is facing “the biggest workforce crisis” in its history which is putting patients at serious risk of harm, an influential group of MPs warned today.

In its report, the Commons cross-party health and social care select committee criticizes the “absence of a credible government strategy” on understaffing across the NHS and criticizes ministers for delaying a plan it says is urgently needed to address critical gaps in almost all areas. of care

The hard-hitting report includes evidence showing the NHS staffing crisis in England is even worse than official figures suggest. Figures from NHS Digital suggest the service has vacancies for 38,972 nurses and 8,016 doctors. However, the actual figures could be as high as 50,000 and 12,000 respectively, according to estimates prepared for MPs by the Nuffield Trust.

The trust analysis agrees with the view of many doctors and front-line managers that some sites are not advertised and therefore not collected by the statistics agency, because hospitals cannot afford to fill them in, even if suitable doctors or nurses are identified.


“We are now facing the biggest ever jobs crisis in the NHS and social care, with no idea how many extra doctors, nurses and other professionals we really need,” said Jeremy Hunt, the former secretary of health, and the Tory failure. leadership candidate: who chairs the committee.

Overworked and often exhausted NHS staff still recovering from the Covid pandemic “know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem, but we should at least give them the comfort that there is a plan. This must be a top priority for the new prime minister.”

The NHS is becoming a key issue in the contest between former chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister.

At the weekend, Sunak highlighted the backlog of 6.6 million patients in NHS care, the long delays patients suffer in receiving care and a growing number of people being forced to pay for private treatment “with a gun to the head.” He said the state of the health service now constituted a national emergency and that its growing inability to provide prompt and quality care was so serious that the service could “break down”.

Truss has pledged to scrap the 1.25% rise in National Insurance, the “health and social care charge”, which started in April and is expected to raise £12bn pounds a year, mainly for the NHS. His promise has raised questions about how the government would properly fund the service.

The committee’s findings will be uncomfortable for both candidates, particularly its warning that chronic understaffing is a threat to both patients and health care professionals.

“The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety in both routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients develop more serious illness later” , the report says.

“Although shortages in any area pose risks to patient safety, these are particularly urgent in maternity services,” the parliamentarians add. They point out that last year the government accepted their recommendation that the NHS in England needs 2,000 more midwives and 500 more obstetricians to provide care that experts say is safe, given the risks of childbirth.

“However, despite this, the NHS in England lost 552 midwives between March 2021 and March 2022. We asked the Secretary of State for a timeframe for when the shortfall would be addressed, but this has not yet been set a date”. Pregnant women need this recruitment so they can “trust that their maternity services are moving towards safety”.

MPs praise the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for making progress towards delivering the 50,000 extra nurses by 2024 that Boris Johnson promised in 2019. However, they also highlight the admission of former health secretary Sajid Javid that another key NHS promise: to increase the number of GPs by 6,000 by the same date; will not be fulfilled.

They criticize the government’s “refusal to properly plan the workforce” and the “marked reluctance to act decisively” despite the gravity of the situation. Javid promised last year to produce an outline of an NHS staffing plan this spring, but it failed to appear and is now expected to appear later this year. It’s also unclear whether it will include plans to hire a specific number of additional staff.

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Sam Higginson, the chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS trust, said in a recent interview that it was operating with a vacancy rate of 11%.

Amid a series of recommendations for action, MPs are urging the Treasury to review the rules on doctors’ pensions, problems with which are causing experienced doctors to work less than they would otherwise, or even and they all quit smoking. “It is a national scandal that senior doctors are being forced to reduce their employment contribution to the NHS or leave it altogether because of NHS pension arrangements,” they say.

Responding to the committee’s findings, a DHSC spokesman said: “We greatly value and appreciate the dedication and contribution of NHS and social care staff. We are growing the health and social workforce, with more than 4,000 more doctors and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and more than 1,400 more general practitioners compared to March 2019.

“As we continue to deliver on our commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024, we are also undertaking a £95m recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500m to develop our valuable workforce of ‘social care, even through training opportunities and new career paths.

“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while delivering safe, high-quality patient care and helping to overcome Covid delays” .

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