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NHS workforce planning often ‘last item on the list’, warns Jeremy Hunt


By James Hacker
22 April 2021

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Failure to prioritise workforce planning in the NHS is ‘continually’ resulting in not enough staff being trained, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned.

Speaking on the NHS Providers’ podcast today (22 April), Mr Hunt – now chair of the health and social care select committee – said there was a ‘perennial problem with our structure for deciding how many doctors and nurses to train’.

‘It’s a negotiation between the health secretary and the Treasury – the health secretary is thinking ‘well this is about the number of doctors in eight years’ time and I’m not going to be here when that happens’, and the Treasury is trying to reign in public spending, so this [workforce planning] is kind of the last item on the list,’ Mr Hunt said.

He added that the result is ‘we continually undertrain the numbers we need’.

Mr Hunt was discussing the impact of the pandemic and the future of the NHS, including the Government white paper for reform.

He told NHS Providers that he hoped the Government would listen to the three health think tanks who last week called for the upcoming Health and Care Bill to be amended to introduce a better system for workforce planning.

He also acknowledged the ‘very real risk’ of a ‘mass exodus of NHS staff’ over the next year, adding that the long-term lesson to be taken from Covid is to question whether the NHS has enough capacity to deal with emergencies like the pandemic – and whether the system is ‘rigorous’ enough to train enough doctors.

NHS Bill to introduce accountability in workforce planning

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) published its legislative proposals for the Bill in February, outlining a number of measures to improve workforce planning.

This included a new duty for the health secretary to publish a report every parliament, setting out the responsibilities for workforce planning and supply in England.

The DHSC said that this would improve the quality of the data held and would create more flexibility for the workforce to work together.

It also suggested that the health secretary publish a document once every five years, covering the roles and responsibilities for workforce planning in primary care in England.

In a letter sent last Thursday (15 April), the Health Foundation and think tanks the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund urged health secretary Matt Hancock to amend the Bill, to help avoid workforce shortages in the future.

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

The letter also 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.

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