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'Scandalous' failings in health leadership and staff planning highlighted in report

Public Accounts Committee tells healthcare employers and managers to 'get a grip'

Organisations in charge of NHS clinical staffing in England have been told to ‘get a better grip’ on nurse supply as they attempt to create a seven-day service.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its latest report today (May 11) calling into question the recent performance of the Department of Health, NHS England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England (HEE). It has given them a series of tasks – including reviewing why staff leave the NHS – and told them to appear before the committee again by December to provide an update on progress.

PAC’s report, Managing the Supply of NHS Clinical Staff in England, calls for an urgent review of staffing guidance – including recruitment and retention policies.

The committee of cross-party MPs, chaired by Labour MP Meg Hillier, concludes ‘no coherent attempt’ has been made by government or its arms-length partners to assess the effect of major policy initiatives on workforce numbers.

The report attacks unrealistic efficiency targets for trusts, and says as a result of ineffective leadership that the guidance on balancing cuts with safe-staffing needs is conflicted.

The chair of the Safe Staffing Alliance Susan Osborne called the situation ‘scandalous’, but praised PAC for ‘endorsing everything we’ve been saying for years’.

She added: ‘This shows the extent of the pressure which these organisations have put on trusts without caring about the impact it has on, safety, staff shortages and morale.’

Recruitment of nurses from overseas and return-to-nursing initiatives also come under the spotlight, with the committee highlighting a ‘lack of co-ordination’ which results in trusts ‘competing for the same staff’.

Proposed changes to nurse education funding by replacing bursaries with student loans are also criticised after the HEE admitted it had not considered the number of people who may decide not to study nursing as a result.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said the report highlighted the lasting impact of poor planning on the nursing workforce and added: ‘If the NHS is to build a strong and sustainable workforce, then tackling issues like pay and working hours head-on will be absolutely vital.

‘What we have seen so far is how short-term decisions and budget cuts lead to nothing but lowered standards of care which could so easily have been avoided.’

Speaking after publication Ms Hillier said: ‘At the same time, taxpayers are being asked to accept un-costed plans for a seven-day NHS. It beggars belief that such a major policy should be advanced with so flimsy a notion of how it will be funded.’

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