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Spending review: Government ‘failed’ to address NHS workforce crisis


By Jess Hacker
28 October 2021

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The Government ‘failed’ to use the Spending Review as an opportunity to address the NHS’ chronic workforce shortages, health leaders and think tanks have said.

In its spending review yesterday (27 October), the Treasury confirmed £5.9bn investment into digital tech and to tackle England’s growing backlog for care, which currently sits at 5.7 million people.

However, Mr Sunak faced criticism for the lack of a workforce plan, with dedicated funding for training.

The King’s Fund noted ‘the real game changer would have been clear funding’ for a workforce plan.

‘Chronic workforce shortages across the health and care system heap further pressure on overstretched staff who are exhausted from the pandemic,’ Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund said.

‘Yet despite pledges, promises and manifesto commitments, the government has failed to use this Spending Review to answer the question of how it will chart a path out of the staffing crisis by setting out the funding for a multi-year workforce strategy.’

Similarly, Charles Tallack, assistant director for the REAL Centre at the Health Foundation, said that new money for technology and buildings was ‘vital, is of limited value without additional staff’.

He said: ‘A workforce plan backed by investment in training are critical and we await details of both so that the NHS’s recovery can be secured.’

Mr Tallack also noted that the social care sector appeared to be ‘one of the biggest losers’ in the review, with no significant funding announcement.

‘While the recent levy will provide £5.4bn over three years to fund the new cap on care costs, this won’t address the challenges in the existing system.’

However, evidence submitted this week to the Government indicated that the money collected by the 1.25% levy risks being ‘swallowed up’ by the amount paid out in clinical negligence claims.

‘Not much hope’ for better mental health outcomes

Meanwhile, the charity Mind commented that the review ‘does not give us much hope’ for meaningful changes to how mental health problems are addressed and treated.

A single mention of mental health in the review came in the announcement of tailored services to help with perinatal mental health.

‘The mental health fallout during this time is huge, so we are deeply disappointed how little the Spending Review has done to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health,’ Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, said.

‘The Chancellor said he wants the UK Government to be judged by “outcomes achieved and difference we make to people’s lives”. Unfortunately, today’s Spending Review does not give us much hope of better outcomes for meaningful changes to the lives of people with mental health problems.’

Mr Sunak must deliver on existing commitments and tackle waiting lists, which are ‘particularly long for children and young people’.

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