Government’s workforce plan for the NHS will not be ready until spring 2022, Sajid Javid tells health committee
"While the health secretary’s admission today is long overdue, it is absolutely not news to GPs and their colleagues working in surgeries across the country that have been decimated by workforce shortages.” Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP committee
A plan to address the backlog in elective care will be published in the next few weeks, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid told MPs last week.
In an appearance in front of the Commons health and social care committee, Javid said that the 15-year workforce plan for the NHS and social care workforce would not be ready until the spring, however. He added that Health Education England (HEE) was “consulting widely” on the plan, saying: “It’s a big tent operation.”
The evidence session was called so that MPs could question the health secretary about plans to address the elective care backlog. In the spending review a week earlier, chancellor Rishi Sunak had announced £5.9bn to help tackle the problem. This would be spent on physical infrastructure such as surgical hubs and community diagnostic centres rather than on workforce.
Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the committee, questioned Javid about how he intended to address the workforce crisis. Javid admitted that the government was likely to break its manifesto promise of increasing the number of GPs in England by 6,000 by 2025. “I’m not going to pretend that we’re on track when we are clearly not,” he told the committee. The 2019 manifesto also promised to expand the nursing workforce by 50,000.
The health secretary added that he was unable to provide details on how many doctors, nurses or other clinical staff the government thought the NHS workforce required. Although his department had “internal estimates,” these required “fine tuning”.
Hunt expressed concern that “there is absolutely no detail in terms of the extra doctors and nurses that you [Javid] think are going to be necessary.” The lack of clarity meant ministers could not be held to account, he said.
In July, the Department of Health and Social Care commissioned HEE to “review long-term strategic trends for the health and social care workforce” as parts of its efforts to plan for NHS workforce requirements.
The NHS’s attempts to recover from the pandemic and address the backlog are likely to be hindered by severe staff shortages. The British Medical Association (BMA) said that heavy workloads were forcing doctors to leave the profession.
Dr Richard Vautrey, who is about to step down from his role as chair of the BMA’s GP committee, told the Guardian that England had lost the equivalent of more than 1,800 full-time, fully qualified GPs since 2015. “So while the health secretary’s admission today is long overdue, it is absolutely not news to GPs and their colleagues working in surgeries across the country that have been decimated by workforce shortages,” he said.