Address staff shortages to reduce waiting lists, say MPs

waiting lists

The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee calls for a national health and care recovery plan to tackle waiting lists and improve access to care. It says the plan needs to rely largely on effective workforce planning.

Currently, the number of patients on waiting list for elective care stands at a record high of nearly six million and there is a real risk that the waiting list will be longer in 2025 than it is today.

In its new report released today the committee welcomes the additional £5.9 billion funding included in the autumn budget for the NHS to help clear the backlog on top of another funding package in September to create an extra nine million checks, scans and operations. But it says that the health service is hugely understaffed and facing an ‘unquantifiable challenge’ in tackling the backlog.

In NHS there are 93,000 vacancies and ‘shortages in nearly every specialty’, while in social care there are 105,000 vacancies and a turnover rate of 28.5%.

The report also notes that NHS England is yet to publish ‘how it plans to meet its workforce requirements’, despite this being promised by Health Secretary Sajid Javid by the end of November 2021.

Former health secretary and chair of the committee Jeremy Hunt said: “Our report finds that the government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis. The current wave of Omicron is exacerbating the problem, but we already had a serious staffing crisis, with a burnt-out workforce, 93,000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address this.  

“Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than day to day firefighting unless the government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix the issue.”

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), responded to the report: “ Given the scale of the backlog, we need an ‘all shoulders to the wheel’ response to reducing NHS waiting lists and the committee’s report rightly emphasises the important role the independent health sector will have in supporting local NHS areas to increase elective activity and bring down waiting times.

“Tackling the elective backlog is the public’s number one priority for the NHS and we urge the government to take on these recommendations and set out a clear strategy to ensure patients can access the care they need both now and in the future.”

A care home operator source told HealthInvestor UK: “I applaud the government for the intention, but the problem is that there is a disconnect between the strategic objective and operational delivery. They [the government] have come up with a strategy that is simple, but its actual delivery is hard. “

The committee wants the government to draw up a recovery plan for services by April.

Date published: January 6, 2022

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