Government plans to tackle the post-pandemic backlog in England’s health service do not address the staff crisis, according to a cross-party report that warned that increasing pressure from Omicron infections and emergency care could exacerbate the problem.
Ministers last year break a manifesto promise and raised national insurance rates to generate an additional £ 30 billion for the health service over three years to reduce waiting lists and address England’s social care crisis.
But Jeremy Hunt, chair of the select committee for health and social care, the parliamentary group behind the report, warned that efforts to reduce the backlog of 5.8 million patients awaiting routine hospital treatment in England run the risk of going off course to be thrown down by a completely predictable staff. crisis”. Official estimates suggest that waiting lists could double by 2025.
“The current wave of Omicron exacerbates the problem, but we have already had a serious staff crisis, with a burnt out workforce, 93 000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address it, ”Hunt said.
“Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than daily firefighting, unless the government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to address the problem. too loose, “he added.
The report comes because a surge in the Omicron coronavirus variant caused a wave of absences among clinicians, pinch NHS workforce even further and forcing hospital trusts across England to declare a critical incident.
The committee said it was “completely unacceptable” that the budget for Health Education England, the body responsible for training the health workforce, remained “unresolved”, adding that it was “extremely discouraging” that no plans had been announced for the number of medics and nurses entering training. More needs to be done to address staff shortages among GPs and in social care, the MPs added.
According to plans outlined by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, HEE will merge with NHS England by 2023. However, MPs warned that the move could hamper the implementation of the government’s long-term workforce strategy for the NHS.
They also criticized the government for opposing an amendment to November’s Health and Care Bill that would require independent forecasts of future workforce needs, adding that such assessments were necessary “to gain the trust of frontline staff”.
Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison Public Services Union, said: “The pandemic has increased the pressure on health workers and many have had enough”, adding that “poor planning by the government has made a bad situation much worse “.
“Staff have been dried up by pandemic pressure,” Gorton said. “Now they’re going to rise through another wave like Omicron.”
Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report made a “damning statement about the government’s commitment to safe patient care”.
He added that this not only highlights “current shortages” in staff, but how “many more run the risk of leaving as well because they are losing confidence in the government’s willingness to tackle the situation”.
The report called on the government to draw up a broader NHS recovery plan by April this year that focused not only on elective care but also services, including emergency care, mental health and social care, which were adversely affected by the pandemic. has been affected. It warned against relying on numerical targets alone, and warned that they could “depreciate key services” and overlook “hidden backlogs”.
MPs also said they saw “enormous potential” in a 111 service with better resources to help ease claims to emergency and emergency departments, which faced record-breaking waiting times in October.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS has added more than 5,000 doctors and nearly 10,000 nurses in the past year.
“The pandemic has put enormous pressure on the NHS, but we are committed to supporting hard-working staff to ensure people get the treatment they need,” a spokesman said.