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Lords vote to require NHS workforce planning proposals

Lords vote to require NHS workforce planning proposals
By Jess Hacker
8 March 2022

The House of Lords has supported a proposition that will see the Government publish regular health and care workforce projections, reversing the Commons’ rejection last year.

The proposal, which was submitted as an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, was supported by 171 votes to 119, and will require the health secretary to publish a report on NHS staffing at least once every two years.

It had been strongly opposed and thrown out when the Bill passed through the House of Commons in November, with the BMA branding it a ‘squandered’ opportunity.

The Bill is largely focused on detailing how the sector will be structured around integration rather than competition, via things like Integrated Care Systems (ICSs).

The amendment had stated that the health secretary ‘must, at least once every two years, lay a report before Parliament describing the system in place for assessing and meeting the workforce needs’ of the health and care sector in England.

When proposing the amendment, Baroness Julia Cumberlege described the NHS chronic workforce crisis as its ‘single greatest problem’, citing that clearing the elective backlog will be impossible without significant steps to improve planning.

She said: ‘We will not know if we have the right people in the right place at the right time. We will not provide a sustainable work environment for the dedicated staff who are currently working so hard within our services. And we will not meet the public’s expectations when they turn to the NHS for care and support.’

It 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.

Commenting on the vote, Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said that ‘poor planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities’ for the workforce have rendered staff shortages ‘endemic’.

This has left remaining staff exhausted with services struggling to cope under the pressure.

He urged ministers to ‘resist the temptation to overturn this important amendment’.

Similarly, Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, said the sector is now ‘one step closer to creating the robust system for long term workforce planning that our health system desperately needs’.

Health secretary powers blocked

Meanwhile, the Lords delivered a second block to new powers for the health secretary to intervene in NHS service change decisions, which the NHS Confederation warned could make local service reconfigurations ‘political, rather than clinical’.

Lord Simon Stevens, former chief executive of NHS England, had previously described the controversial powers as ‘unnecessary, undesirable and unworkable’, and would have risked handicapping the NHS pandemic response had they been introduced at the time.

The NHS Confederation said last week that, when working to clear the elective backlog, local service leaders ‘need to have the flexibility to make small changes to services’, which would have been curbed by the Bill’s initial proposal.

Commenting again on the 145 to 122 vote, The King’s Fund’s Mr Murray said: ‘For a government intent on reducing bureaucracy, these powers could have created a heavy bureaucratic burden.’

This all comes after the Government’s recently published elective recovery plan was widely criticised for lacking a workforce plan.

And last week, a GP told MPs that working in general practice is tantamount to being ‘pelted with rocks’.

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