The King’s Fund think tank and British Medical Association (BMA) have slammed the Conservative government for voting against plans to offer greater transparency for NHS workforce planning.
They were responding to a vote in the House of Commons last night which saw Conservative MPs block an amendment that would require the publication of health and care workforce projections.
The amendment tabled by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt was supported by MPs from across the political divide and backed by more than 60 health and care organisations.
However, despite securing 19 Tory votes including Hunt, the measure was blocked by 276 votes to 214.
As the NHS is struggling to cope with a severe backlog of cases following dealing with the pandemic, experts from across the sector have warned about the strain on the workforce in England.
Questions have been raised about how government will fill the thousands of medical vacancies and deal with the likelihood of many more leaving the profession through burnout and other factors.
‘Years of poor planning’
The King’s Fund chief executive Richard Murray emphasised that the government had missed its opportunity to make concrete its commitment to health and care workforce planning.
“Years of poor planning and short-term thinking has left health and care services struggling to cope with chronic staff shortages,” he said.
“The amendment would have addressed this by encouraging a more strategic, long-term approach based on the regular publication of future workforce projections.
“Despite pledges, promises and manifesto commitments there is still no plan to address workforce shortages, and there is no certainty about the budgets for staff education and training.
“The health and care workforce crisis continues to be a blind spot for the government,” he added.
‘Woefully short of detail’
Likewise, the trade union for doctors added it was deeply disappointing government had squandered the chance to demonstrate a commitment to safe staffing in the NHS.
BMA council deputy chairman Dr David Wrigley said: “There are 93,000 overall staff vacancies in the NHS, including a critical shortage of nurses, doctors, and midwives among other colleagues.
“Additionally, the BMA estimates that the NHS in England needs an additional 50,000 doctors to care for patients and provide safe care; the government must understand the scale of this challenge and meet it with appropriate action.
“The Health and Care Bill as it stands falls woefully short of detail on workforce planning and this amendment, supported by many influential and expert organisations, would have held the government to account – ensuring it regularly assessed how many doctors we need now and in the future.
“The NHS is under unprecedented pressure, with record-high waiting lists, and staff exhausted from giving their all during the greatest health emergency of our lifetimes as patients continue to suffer significant harm due to understaffing.
“We therefore need a credible workforce plan that guarantees we’re recruiting – and keeping – the right number and the right kind of staff.”
Both bodies highlighted the widespread backing for the proposal and urged government to listen to the experts. The bill now passes to the House of Lords for scrutiny.