The NHS ‘emergency’ of staff burnout cannot be tackled without a complete overhaul of workforce planning, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee has warned.
Burnout amongst staff – already a major problem before the pandemic and now at emergency levels – poses a risk to the future functioning of both the NHS and social care, MPs said.
A report from the committe said there was no accurate, public projection of workforce requirements across NHS specialisms over the next five to ten years.
Among the figures cited by the report was a prediction from the Health Foundation of a shortfall of 7,000 full-time equivalent GPs in 2023/24 rising to 11,500 FTE GPs by 2028/29.
During the inquiry MPs had been warned that if staff worked to contract and worked to rule, the NHS would not be able to provide anything like the quality of care it needs to. ‘Part of the problem is that we are relying relentlessly on the good will of our staff’, MPs were told.
The committee had heard that a mismatch between rising demand and capacity over the previous decade had led to frontline staff being asked to work ever harder to close the gap, which had resulted in an impossible and unsustainable workload.
One anonymous practice manager had told MPs that Covid-19 had increased the amount of patient contact explaining: ‘We’ve definitely never worked so hard in our lives as we’ve worked in the last year. It’s been relentless.’
The report also noted that staff from minority ethnic backgrounds faced specific challenges in relation to workplace culture, burnout and resilience in addition to clear evidence that they had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Reports from Public Health England and the BAME Communities Advisory Group had already identified a series of actions on this and the Department of Health and Social Care should nowset out a timeframe for how it plans to implement those recommendations, the report said.
Health Education England must publish objective, transparent and independently audited annual reports on five, ten and 20-year workforce projections including an assessment of whether sufficient numbers are being trained, the committee recommended.
The additional mental health support for health and care staff put in place during Covid-19 should be maintained at the same level after the pandemic, it added.
And NHS England should review the targets it sets which may risk of ‘inadvertently creating a culture which deprioritises care of both staff and patients’, it said.
Health and Social Care Committee chair, Jeremy Hunt, said: ‘Workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services.
‘Staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout. It will simply not be possible to address the backlog caused by the pandemic unless these issues are addressed.’
Dr David Wrigley, BMA wellbeing lead, said: ‘The fact that we have an overstretched, understaffed workforce is not new, but this report makes clear that all health and care staff desperately need Government support now.
‘Health and care staff suffered stress and work related anxiety before the pandemic but it is now far more serious and we believe the current level of staff burnout and stress presents a worrying risk to the future functioning of the health and care system and safe patient care.’
He added that the BMA supported the recommendation for continuous and transparent assessments of workforce shortages and future staffing requirements as the only way to provide accountability.
‘We also welcome the recommendations to address the inequalities faced by health and care staff from minority ethnic backgrounds including the specific challenges in relation to workplace culture, burnout and resilience.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said GPs had been working under intense pressures for more than a decade which were only exacerbated by the pandemic.
‘General practice has made a remarkable contribution to the pandemic effort with GPs and our teams working flat out, delivering essential care to patients – a record of nearly 14 million consultations were delivered in the four weeks from mid-April to mid-May – as well as their leading role in the Covid vaccination programme, with 75% of vaccinations being administered in primary care.
‘We simply don’t have enough GPs or other members of the practice team to meet demand and general practice is only set to get busier as we support our communities’ recovery from the pandemic.
He called on urgent action from the Government including delivering on their pledge of 6,000 more GPs and thousands more members of the wider practice team by 2024/2025 but also more initiatives to retain experienced GPs, including by tackling an ‘undoable’ workload.
‘This will help to make the job of a GP more manageable again so that we keep hardworking and dedicated GPs where they want to be – caring for patients, as well as ensure patients can continue to have access to the care that they need.’