Government underestimates challenges facing NHS which could 'rapidly reach crisis point', MPs warn

'Staffing shortages present a major obstacle to the NHS’s financial viability,' report warns

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 03 April 2019 08:04 BST
Plan launched in January relies on raiding doctors and nurses form overseas
Plan launched in January relies on raiding doctors and nurses form overseas

The NHS will “rapidly reach crisis point” if it continues to lose staff and fails to attract more overseas workers because of Brexit, , MPs have warned in a new report.

Members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) accused the government of “painting an overly positive picture” of the state of the NHS when it knows staff and funding shortages could scupper badly needed reforms.

The NHS long-term plan was published in January, after the Government committed to increasing its budget by an extra £20.5bn funding per year by 2023-24.

However, official figures show there are currently more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS, nearly one in every 10 posts, and this includes 40,000 nurse roles.

“The NHS will not deliver against the [long-term plan] plan unless it addresses staffing shortages,” the report warns. “These staffing shortages present a major obstacle to the NHS’s financial viability and we remain concerned about how the NHS can suitably address these workforce shortages.

“Should the NHS continue to lose staff at the current rate, or fail to attract enough employees from overseas, then the situation will rapidly reach crisis point.”

A detailed workforce plan is expected this month but the plan released in January made clear that nurses and doctors raided from overseas would be vital to keeping the NHS afloat short term.

The government claimed that the NHS nearly balanced its budget in 2017-18, with NHS England, trusts and clinical commissioning groups reporting a combined deficit of £21m.

However the PAC said this “hides warning signs that the NHS’s financial health is getting worse”, with increasing loans to support struggling trusts, growing waiting lists and slipping waiting times.

A “lack of clarity” on adult social care funding was another concern. The Independent, last week, revealed the government missed its own deadline to publish reforms for the sixth time since 2017.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the committee, said those working in the NHS were clear about the risks from the workforce crisis.

“By July we expect to see evidence that Government has a plan to address them,” she said.

Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said: “The committee has echoed the swelling chorus of concern about the staffing crisis engulfing the NHS. Ministers must ensure money is put aside to fund the supply of new staff with proper apprenticeship programmes, restored training budgets and better career support.

“Any recovery plan requires significant investment and a commitment to fair pay rises for the future.”

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An NHS Improvement spokesman said: “The NHS has reduced the number of staff vacancies and the number of trusts in deficit over the past year. We are building on these achievements with our people plan, which will set out how we will deliver a 21st century NHS for our rising and ageing population by growing the number of doctors and nurses, as well as by giving trusts in deficit extra money and support from this month so that every hospital will return to financial balance within the next five years.”

An NHS review on workforce is expected to be published after the 2019 spending review.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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