MPs have urged NHS England to publish a projection of its GP workforce numbers, after finding that the Government has ‘overseen years of decline’ in NHS waiting times.
In a new report, the Public Accounts Committee called on the health service to share its predictions for how the GP and wider NHS workforce will change over the next three years in a bid to deal with growing elective backlogs.
It claimed that the NHS had not met its 18-week maximum waiting time standards since February 2016 – long before the pandemic – and suggested that the DHSC ‘did not increase capacity sufficiently’ to meet growing demand.
It said: ‘The Department must strengthen its arrangements for holding NHSE&I to account for its performance against waiting times standards for elective and cancer care.’
This should include expectations for improving waiting times over the next year, it said.
Currently, around 6.1 million patients are waiting to start treatment, with more than 311,000 waiting longer than a year.
The DHSC has been contacted for comment.
GPs ‘already overstretched’
MPs heard that ‘large numbers of people’ who did not come forward during the pandemic ‘present a huge risk’ to primary care services, with unmet demand resulting in far more GP appointments.
The BMA had also told the committee that people waiting for elective care might seek support from ‘already overstretched’ GPs, creating a knock-on effect on the number of available appointments.
Responding to the report, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the 2010s brought ‘the longest financial squeeze in the NHS’ history’, leading to over 110,000 staff vacancies.
He said: ‘Until we find a credible way of addressing these shortages then we won’t make the inroads into the care backlog that are required.’
Meanwhile, Nuffield Trust’s deputy director of research Sarah Scobie said: ‘Most concerning is the fact that we know that things are set to get worse before they can get better.
‘Staffing shortages and the effect of the pandemic on their wellbeing have no quick fixes, and plans set out to boost the number of operations and procedures the NHS can carry out lean heavily on this exhausted workforce.’
This all comes after NHS Digital data revealed that the overall number of staff vacancies in England had topped 110,000 as of December 2021, increasing by more than 20,000 across the year.
And last month, the Government’s recently published elective recovery plan was widely criticised for lacking a workforce plan.