Unprecedented demand for action on NHS workforce shortages

Medical royal colleges, NHS trade unions and bodies representing senior hospital managers and other health organisations have joined together to warn bosses at NHS England and the government that they must act to ensure the health service workforce is supported in the wake of coronavirus.

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The NHS will be unable to meet the needs of patients unless significant action is taken to tackle staff shortages, an unprecedented coalition of health leaders has warned.

The organisations said they were united in the belief that meaningful action on long-standing workforce issues would be the best way to repay the efforts of NHS staff during the virus outbreak – calling for a public commitment to boost numbers, increase flexible working, and improve leadership and support for staff.

Signatories included all the medical royal colleges, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, NHS Providers, NHS Employers, and the NHS Confederation.

Professor Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which organised the statement, told The Independent: “Continued staff shortages in the NHS will be hugely damaging for patients. It has long been recognised that there is a serious shortage of doctors and nurses and right now we need to keep the staff we have, who have done a brilliant job during the pandemic, as well as increase the size of the workforce.

“This is why we have all come together in this unprecedented way to say to the NHS that it cannot delay any longer when it comes to making sure we support our healthcare staff.”

Before the coronavirus crisis the NHS had an estimated 40,000 nursing vacancies and more than 100,000 jobs unfilled overall.

While numbers of nurses and doctors have risen to record levels it has not been enough to meet the increased demand from more patients needing treatment. The government has repeatedly put back the publication of a national workforce plan for England which was supposed to have been published last year.

Ministers have promised increased recruitment from overseas to help boost NHS posts in the short term while extra money has been made available to expand medical and nursing posts at universities.

In their joint statement the organisations said: “The remarkable dedication and efforts of health and care staff throughout the Covid-19 crisis across all staff groups have been recognised by the public and by government.

“We are now moving into the next phase of managing the pandemic. As organisations which represent NHS staff and employers we consider that a public commitment to tackling the long-standing NHS and care workforce problems that were evident before and which the pandemic has re-enforced in a systematic and sustained manner is the way to repay the dedication of health and care staff.

“Without this, the service will not be able to meet the needs of its patients.”

They said the workforce plan may need to be “reframed” but stressed that “we must now move forward and begin to implement a new approach”.

Key demands made by the groups include increasing the supply of staff with what they said was a “nationally recognised priority in nursing, and measures to address this through increased recruitment to training, use of those volunteering to return, broader international recruitment (without doubt likely to be harder post-Covid) and a commitment to better retention practises.”

They added the wellbeing of staff who were “wearied and traumatised” by the Covid-19 crisis was crucial.

The statement also called for better leadership at all levels that would improve culture and efforts to retain positive ways of working that had emerged during the Covid-19 crisis.

The organisations said every NHS trust needed to find practical ways to help staff feel valued and work flexibly with better facilities and rewards.

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Their statement concluded: “Emerging from this stage of the Covid-19 epidemic and managing its aftermath will present huge challenges to the NHS and wider care system, its staff and for government all of which will have to be addressed in time.

“However, representing staff and employers we are united in believing that tackling these workforce issues is the best recognition of the hard work and dedication of NHS during the pandemic and also will be essential if the NHS is to deliver for its patients in the months and years ahead and that.”

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