‘Panicked and ill-considered’ NHS plan draws fire from unions

Thérèse Coffey’s proposal includes support for GPs and a call for more volunteers, but critics say it fails to address ‘dire problems in hospitals and care homes’

Thérèse Coffey’s proposal includes support for GPs and a call for more volunteers, but critics say it fails to address ‘dire problems in hospitals and care homes’

NHS volunteer with patient
Picture: iStock

Thérèse Coffey has set out her first major NHS plan as new health and social care secretary – but it has been heavily criticised for ‘not even a whiff’ of ideas to address workforce shortages.

Patient safety concerns were also raised regarding the proposal’s call for more volunteers to support the NHS, with the RCN labelling the move ‘panicked and ill-considered’.

Recruitment drive for support staff in primary care

The plan, aimed at getting the NHS through what is predicted to be its worst winter on record, has a big focus on primary care while omitting hospital and other care settings. GPs will be expected to see all patients who need an appointment within two weeks, while funding will be made available to recruit extra support staff for GPs, including more advanced nurse practitioners, but the Department of Health and Social Care said there was no target on recruitment numbers.

Meanwhile, more volunteers will be asked to come forward to take part in a ‘national endeavour’ across the NHS and in social care, as they did at the height of the pandemic.

Plan draws criticism amid nurse staffing crisis

The RCN criticised the proposal for failing to address the current nursing workforce crisis, with a record 47,000 nursing posts unfilled in England and more than 25,000 leaving the register in the past year.

The only commitment to the nursing workforce in the plan is a reiteration of the government’s pledge to recruit 50,000 extra nurses by 2024, a target that has been widely criticised by workforce experts.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘Nursing staff provide the majority of patient care and we’re concerned that, when it comes to making care safer, this announcement appears to be lacking.

‘The basic issue, which these plans do not address, is that we don’t have enough nursing staff. Urgent investment is needed including fair pay and measures to boost the domestic workforce, such as funding tuition fees.’

Ms Cullen slammed the push for volunteers to support the NHS, adding: ‘There is a staffing crisis in an overloaded system and it is putting patients at risk. Another callout for volunteers will look panicked and ill-considered.’

Call for stronger plan to ‘stem the growing exodus of staff’

Her comments were echoed by Unison general secretary Christina McAnea who said ‘offloading’ to volunteers was not the solution.

‘There’s not even a whiff here that the government might have a serious plan to respond to the dire problems in hospitals and care homes,’ she added.

‘That begins and ends with a proper workforce plan to stem the growing exodus of staff leaving for much less stressful, better paying jobs.’

Potential strike action on the cards

The criticisms come at a time of growing unrest among nurses, with many at risk of quitting due to burnout, poor pay and being overworked. The RCN and other unions have heavily campaigned for fairer pay for nurses, with nursing staff around the UK set to be balloted from 6 October on potential strike action.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, nurse Carmel O’Boyle said the upcoming winter is a ‘terrifying time’ for nurses who are trying to make ends meet.

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