Organisations representing doctors and nurses have expressed their disappointment at MPs’ decision to reject a proposal for greater NHS workforce planning requirements.
During a final reading of the Health and Social Care Bill this week, MPs tabled a motion against an amendment that would have required the government to provide current and future workforce estimates within the NHS and social care at least every three years, as well as assessments of how these compared with projections of the workforce needed to meet demand.
The amendment, which came from the House of Lords, received support from hundreds of organisations including those representing NHS management, charities, patient groups, think tanks, royal colleges and professional bodies.
MPs, including health minister Edward Argar, felt the amendment was “unnecessary”.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who supported the amendment, asked MPs: “What precisely is unnecessary about an amendment that simply requires independent, regular estimates of the numbers of doctors and nurses we should be training?”
“Why on earth would we not want to train more doctors and nurses, if we looked objectively at the challenges facing the NHS today? We last debated this on the day the Ockenden report was published… The key recommendation in that report was for 2,000 more midwives and 500 more obstetricians, and that would not have been necessary had this amendment been in place,” said Hunt.
“I am afraid that, by voting down a simple request for independent estimates of the number of doctors and nurses we should be training, the government are actively choosing to sweep the problem under the carpet.”
MPs voted against the NHS workforce planning bill amendment 278 to 182. The bill has now received royal assent to become the Health and Social Care Act.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said MPs rejection of the amendments was a letdown.
“Over 100 health organisations (including all medical Royal Colleges), two former NHS chief execs and a former health secretary supported the workforce planning amendment – but that wasn’t enough,” he said in a series of tweets.
“The government hasn’t set out the number of staff our NHS needs. The NHS needs a plan and the #HealthandCareBill was a prime opportunity to achieve this.”
— Martin Marshall (@MartinRCGP) April 26, 2022
Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said tens of thousands of nursing vacancies are contributing to treatment delays.
“All major healthcare organisations asked these elected representatives to publish an assessment of how many nursing staff and others are needed to provide safe patient care,” said Cullen.
“Nursing staff will continue to demand action on behalf of patients and the public. We’ll not stop fighting for safe staffing. Only by having enough staff, who have the right skills and are paid fairly for their safety-critical work, will patients get the high-quality care they deserve.”
Cullen added that nurses should “raise concerns about safe practices wherever they work”.
Dr Adrian Boyle, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “The current pressures on the health service are unsustainable and substantially driven by widespread workforce shortages across all grades and departments. These shortages are further exacerbated by an inability to retain existing staff facing burnout, distress, and moral injury, resulting in the loss of senior staff to early retirement and junior staff who quit the profession.
“Having an independent review of health and social care workforce projections for five, 10 and 20 years’ time would have been the welcome starting point for a fully funded workforce plan – which appears to have been scuppered. For Members of Parliament in the House of Commons to vote down this amendment is a failure to the NHS and Social Care and a failure to the workforce that has been pushed to its limit for over two years.”