Nurse shortages present a ‘major obstacle’ to NHS Long Term Plan

MPs also warn that financial health of NHS is worsening
Nurse shortages

MPs also warn that financial health of NHS is worsening

Picture: iStock

The NHS will not be able to deliver its long-term plan without addressing shortages of nurses and other healthcare staff, MPs have warned.

Their Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report states that the situation will ‘rapidly reach crisis point’ if the health service continues to lose staff and fails to attract more overseas workers.

The NHS Long Term Plan was published in January, after the government committed to an extra £20.5 billion in funding per year by 2023-24.

Misplaced optimism

The committee said it was concerned that government officials had painted an overly positive picture of the financial sustainability of the NHS, and downplayed the challenges ahead.

There are around 100,000 vacancies across the NHS, including 40,000 nursing vacancies in England, according to the PAC report.

It warns that expecting retention to improve, or for more staff to join from overseas, was a risky strategy, with the UK’s pending exit from the European Union potentially complicating matters.

‘The long-term funding settlement for the NHS and the NHS long-term plan present an opportunity to bring back stability to the health system,’ the report states.

'However, with about 100,000 current vacancies, the NHS will not deliver against the plan unless it addresses staffing shortages.

‘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.’

Hidden warning signs

The health service almost balanced its budget in 2017-18, with NHS England, trusts and clinical commissioning groups reporting a combined deficit of £21 million, the committee said.

However, the report warns that the top-level picture hides warning signs that the NHS’s financial health is getting worse, with an increase in loans to support struggling trusts, growing waiting lists, and waiting-time targets that are not being met.

Dame Donna Kinnair.
Picture: John Houlihan

Show us the money

Responding to the report, RCN acting general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘Without a significant investment in nursing, and at least £1 billion per year into higher education for nurses, the NHS will struggle to attract and retain the next generation of nurses, and the government’s long-term plan will struggle to succeed.’

An NHS Improvement spokesperson said the NHS has reduced the number of staff vacancies and the number of trusts in deficit over the past year. They added that trusts in deficit will be given extra money and support from this month ‘so that every hospital will return to financial balance within the next five years’.

An NHS-wide workforce review is expected to be published later in the year, after the 2019 NHS spending review.

Further information

Read the Public Accounts Committee report

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