NHS workforce shortages are so dire that there is a risk some of the £20.5bn extra funding pledged may go unspent, expects have warned.
Ahead of the publication of the Government’s long-term plan for the NHS, the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation said that unless it contains a ‘credible’ workforce strategy it will ‘simply be a wish list’ for what should happen with the health service.
They said that, as it stands, the ‘workforce challenges in the NHS in England now present a greater threat to health services than the funding challenges’.
This comes as there is a current staff shortage across hospital trusts of 100,000, which could reach 250,000 by 2030, the experts said, and as ‘GP practices are struggling to recruit and retain doctors such that the number of GPs has fallen in recent years’.
The experts pointed out that ‘despite the overarching policy commitment to move care away from hospital and towards primary care’, GP numbers increased by just 5% between 2006 and 2014 – ‘a trend exacerbated over the period since 2014, during which the number of GPs has actually fallen’.
They blamed the current situation on:
- the fragmentation of responsibility for workforce issues at a national level;
- poor workforce planning;
- cuts in funding for training places;
- restrictive immigration policies exacerbated by Brexit; and
- worryingly high numbers of doctors and nurses leaving their jobs early.
They said this comes as central investment in education and training ‘has dropped from 5% of health spending in 2006/7 to 3% in 2018/19’, pointing out that ‘had the previous share of health spending been maintained, investment would be £2bn higher’.
The report said: ‘If substantial staff shortages continue, they could lead to growing waiting lists, deteriorating care quality and the risk that some of the £20.5 billion secured for NHS frontline services will go unspent: even if commissioners have the resources to commission additional activity, health care providers may not have the staff to deliver it.’
Commenting on the findings, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GP trainee numbers are at an all-time high, but it takes 10 years to train a family doctor from entering medical school and efforts to bolster our workforce for today’s patients are falling short of expected targets, leading to ever-increasing waiting times, burnt out GPs, and quality of care being put under threat.
‘As well recruiting more doctors, we also need schemes to reduce the unnecessary and bureaucratic workload GPs are currently facing, and retain experienced GPs in the profession, not only for the benefit of our patients, but to also help teach and nurture the next generation of general practitioners.’