There is a ‘very real risk’ that the NHS will enter into a vicious circle of workforce shortages, where staff vacancies are the greatest threat to the retention of staff, according to a joint letter from six healthcare bodies to the Prime Minister.
NHS leaders have warned there needs to be billions of pounds of extra investment to head off a haemorrhaging of staff.
The letter, from the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and Unison, has called on the Government to clearly outline a workforce plan to address the shortages and make the investment needed to enact this plan.
It also asks the Government to reveal how much it will cost to train more staff, how long this will take and whether new staff will be recruited from the UK or abroad.
The letter states: ‘As the people of the NHS emerge from the pandemic proud of their contribution to the safety of the nation but exhausted after the most testing year they will ever have experienced, we ask you to give them hope.
‘Hope that there is a plan (matched by investment) which will address shortages of NHS staff in the medium and long term, and hope that such planning finally becomes a routine way of how the government and the NHS work together to improve the health and wealth of the nation.’
It comes after former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said NHS workforce planning was often the ‘last item on the list’ and failure to prioritise this was ‘continually’ resulting in not enough staff being trained.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Danny Mortimer, said: ‘We desperately need the Government to give the people working in the NHS hope that the gaps in their teams will be filled in the longer term.
‘It is so deeply worrying that far too many NHS staff feel that they are unable to do their job properly because they simply do not have enough colleagues to support them.
‘This, combined with the working conditions they have found themselves under during the pandemic, as well as the pressing need to tackle both the long term impact of the pandemic on people’s physical and mental health and waiting times, means staff the NHS and its people cannot meet the needs to their patients and that we start to see a haemorrhaging of our staff.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘NHS staff have delivered for patients this past year. The government now needs to deliver for NHS staff by addressing longstanding workforce shortages.
‘We must see a fully costed and funded national workforce plan, so we stop asking NHS frontline staff to bear an unsustainable workload shift after shift, week after week.’
He added: ‘The plan can’t just cover existing workforce gaps. It must set out the level of staffing needed to make the NHS a great place to work. Currently, the NHS cannot consistently give its staff a reasonable workload and the work life balance they need and deserve. That has to change.’
Earlier this month, charity the Health Foundation and think tanks the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund called for a better system of workforce planning in the upcoming Health and Care bill.