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Persistent understaffing of NHS a serious risk to patient safety, warn MPs

The NHS and social care face the greatest workforce crisis in their history, compounded by the absence of a credible government strategy to tackle the situation, say MPs. In the NHS, persistent understaffing poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety in routine and emergency care.

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The Workforce: recruitment, training and retention report outlines the scale of the workforce crisis: new research suggests the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives; evidence on workforce projections say an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade; hospital waiting lists reached a record high of nearly 6.5 million in April. The report finds the Government to have shown a marked reluctance to act decisively. The refusal to do proper workforce planning risked plans to tackle the Covid backlog - a key target for the NHS.

The number of full-time equivalent GPs fell by more than 700 over three years to March 2022, despite a pledge to deliver 6,000 more. Appearing before the inquiry, the then Secretary of State Sajid Javid admitted he was not on track to deliver them. The report describes a situation where NHS pension arrangements force senior doctors to reduce working hours as a “national scandal” and calls for swift action to remedy.

Maternity services are flagged as being under serious pressure with more than 500 midwives leaving in a single year. A year ago the Committee’s maternity safety inquiry concluded almost 2,000 more midwives were needed and almost 500 more obstetricians. The Secretary of State failed to give a deadline by when a shortfall in midwife numbers would be addressed.
Pay is a crucial factor in recruitment and retention in social care. Government analysis estimated more than 17,000 jobs in care paid below the minimum wage.

separate report by the Committee’s panel of independent experts (Expert Panel) published today rates the government’s progress overall to meet key commitments it has made on workforce as “inadequate”.

Health and Social Care Committee Chair Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt said:

“Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long term plan by the government to tackle it.

“We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need. NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.”

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