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Health bodies call for urgent new system to avoid future workforce shortages

By Beth Gault
15 April 2021

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Multiple health bodies have called on the Government to put in place a better system of workforce planning in a joint letter to the health secretary Matt Hancock and chair of the Health and Social Care select committee, Jeremy Hunt.

The letter, from charity the Health Foundation and think tanks the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund, suggested amendments to the upcoming Health and Care Bill, which it said would help avoid workforce shortages in the future.

These included ensuring there is dedicated workforce investment, a long-term workforce strategy and ‘decisive action’ based on the best available data.

It comes after the Department of Health and Social Care set out its legislative proposals for the bill in February.

These included introducing a duty for the health secretary to publish a report every parliament, setting out the responsibilities for workforce planning and supply in England, improving the quality and availability of data across the sector, and to create more flexibility for the workforce to work together.

The letter suggested that ministers should include a new clause in the bill, which would see Health Education England publish annual, independently verified projections of the future supply of healthcare workers alongside projected demand.

The letter said: ‘These estimates must be as robust and as complete as possible and as a minimum they must set out projections based on the assumption of constant policy.

‘Explanatory notes should make clear that the cause will require projections of both headcount and full-time equivalent for the total health and care workforce, in England and for every region, covering those working voluntary and private providers of health and social care as well as the NHS.’

It added: ‘Transparent, accurate projections will at best support and incentivise decisions that create the workforce we need in the long run: they are not an end in themselves. Staff will need immediate and ongoing support to help them recover, and preparing for the coming challenges will require a blend of local and national action.’

The letter also called for a fully costed workforce strategy for the next five years.

It said: ‘If the NHS is to overcome the obstacles it faces in recovering services after Covid-19, including clearing the backlog of care and addressing increased demand for mental health services, it needs to be fully prepared and properly staffed.

‘Taking the right course in rebuilding from the current crisis will also require political realism and honesty with the public about what can be achieved. Setting unrealistic targets for the recovery of services and launching a top down drive to meet them when staff are exhausted could be disastrous. The risk in terms of the morale, wellbeing and burnout of staff is significant and there is a very real risk of an exodus of staff from the service.’

It comes after a study found that half of London-based NHS and care staff considered quitting during Covid.

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