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MPs slam Government’s ‘seriously flawed’ seven-day workforce assumptions

There has been ‘no coherent attempt’ to assess the impact on the current NHS workforce of implementing seven-day services, MPs on an influential parliamentary committee has said.

A report by the Common’s Public Accounts Committee tasks the Department of Health with investigating and reporting on the ‘workforce implications’ of implementing the seven-day NHS by December 2016, adding that its current planning is ‘seriously flawed’.

It also highlights the lack of planning to ensure enough appropriate staff are on hand to deliver NHS England’s ambition of providing more care in the community.

The Government announced it had secured an additional £10 billion in NHS funding by 2020 from the Treasury in last year’s spending review to support its manifesto commitments, including the seven-day NHS.

But the PAC says it is ‘far from convinced’ that funding will be sufficient to meet all of its policy objectives, adding that the DH expects this ‘will cover everything – despite not having separately costed seven-day services and other initiatives’.

The PAC says that there has not been enough workforce planning to ensure that the Government’s policy decisions around providing more care in hospitals and GP practices at weekends are achievable.

It states: ‘Limitations in the data on staffing pressures make it difficult for health bodies to make well-informed decisions about workforce planning.’

The PAC recommends: ‘The Department, working with its arm’s-length bodies, should set out how it will ensure there is systematic reliable data on workforce pressures, including vacancy rates and reasons why staff leave the NHS, to help them manage the supply of clinical staff more effectively.’

It also tasks the Government with ensuring that in future ‘major’ NHS policy initiatives ‘explicitly consider’ workforce implications.

A further recommendation calls for the DH to ensure it addresses the current gaps in workforce data, particularly around vacancy rates and reasons behind staff leaving.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said today: ’There are serious flaws in the Government’s approach to staffing the NHS and without urgent action the public will pay for it on multiple fronts.

‘Taxpayers are being asked to accept uncosted plans for a 7-day NHS – plans which therefore present a further serious risk to public money.

‘It beggars belief that such a major policy should be advanced with so flimsy a notion of how it will be funded – namely from money earmarked to cover all additional spending in the NHS to the end of the decade.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is currently locked in a dispute with junior doctors after imposing a contract designed to increase staff presence in hospitals on weekends, while he said this week that he was pushing ahead with routine Sunday GP opening, despite a wealth of evidence showing little patient demand for the scheme.