Employment

MPs launch inquiry into NHS staffing crisis

MPs will investigate why health care staff are leaving the NHS and what can be done to attract new doctors and nurses

A protestor holds a sign saying "Heroes shouldn't have to use food banks" calling for better pay for NHS workers

In 2017 the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reported “growing numbers of nursing staff using food banks, taking on additional jobs and accruing personal debt. Image: Unsplash / Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

MPs will investigate the causes of the NHS staffing crisis in a new inquiry launched hours after the government voted down plans to monitor workforce planning.

Alongside reasons behind the crisis, the inquiry will look at possible solutions, including whether the training period for doctors could be reduced and whether the cap on offers to international and domestic students could be removed.

“More staff will be needed to meet future demand and deal with the backlog caused by the pandemic,” reads the announcement from the Health and Social Care Committee.

Hospital staff shortages are contributing to the current crisis that has seen patients waiting inside ambulances for up to 14 hours before being admitted to A&E – with paramedics experiencing the “highest ever level of sustained demand”.

​​Ministers have warned of a mounting workforce crisis in England’s hospitals as they struggle to recruit, with one in five nursing posts on some wards now unfilled. 

There are around 39,000 vacancies for registered nurses in England according to NHS figures released in October, and around 100,000 NHS staffing vacancies advertised in England.

“It’s great that MPs want to give the problems affecting the care sector some serious attention,” Gavin Edwards, from public service union Unison told The Big Issue, “but there would be no need for an inquiry into staffing shortages if the government had a proper plan for care.

“Ministers should be ensuring all employers pay their workers at least the real living wage and begin to treat them better too. That would help stop so many people leaving for higher-paid work and encourage job hunters to think of care as a serious career option.

The inquiry is asking:

“What is the correct balance between domestic and international recruitment of health and social care workers in the short, medium and long term?” 

“What are the main steps that must be taken to recruit the extra staff that are needed across the health and social care sectors in the short, medium and long-term?”

By 2030/31, almost half a million extra health care staff will be needed to meet the pressures of demand and recover from the pandemic, research by The Health Foundation has found. That’s a 40 per cent increase in the NHS’s current workforce.

Only yesterday MPs voted against the amendment tabled by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt – now chair of the Health and Social Care Committee – which called for the Health and Care Bill to address the staffing shortages crippling the NHS.

More than 60 of the UK’s most respected health and social care organisations including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing supported the amendment.

“A broad coalition of professional, political and public support has been overlooked by a government still unwilling to solve the staffing crisis in the NHS and care system,” said Patricia Marquis, director of the Royal College of Nursing in England. 

“When vacancy levels are so high, the move is short-sighted at best and wilfully reckless at worst,” she continued. 
The Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care inquiry is currently accepting evidence and will close on January 19 2022.

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