Staff shortages could derail NHS funding boost plans

Report warns extra money promised for NHS may be lost to agency costs – or not used at all

 Report warns some of the £20.5 billion a year promised for NHS may be lost to agency costs – or not used at all

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Extra money for the NHS risks going unspent or being used on agency workers because of staff shortages, a report warns.

The National Audit Office (NAO) cautions that some of the additional £20.5 billion a year in NHS funding promised by the government in 2018 may not be used ‘optimally’ – or at all – without the necessary staff.

Does not cover all areas of health spending

NHS trusts also told the NAO that even with the extra funding pledged for the health service until 2023, it is unlikely they will meet their performance standards because of difficulties recruiting staff.

In September 2018, nurse vacancies at trusts in England stood at 41,000 (11.6% vacancy rate). Rates varied between regions, with a 14.6% nurse vacancy rate in London, compared with 9.3% in the north of England.

The report on the financial sustainability of the NHS also warns that the long-term funding settlement does not cover key areas in health spending.

For example, the average 3.4% uplift in funding applies to the budget for NHS England and not the Department of Health and Social Care’s entire budget, which covers areas such as nurse training.

Implications for the Long Term Plan

RCN England director Patricia Marquis said: ‘This report confirms our greatest fear – that the impressive ambition of the Long Term Plan could be derailed, simply because we do not have the nursing staff to deliver it.

‘Treating and caring for patients safely and effectively relies on having the right number of nurses with the right skills in place.'

Ms Marquis cited the examples of specialist cancer units closing because they were unable to recruit nurses and mental health units struggling to meet demand.

Investment in nurse education

She reiterated the RCN's call for an immediate £1 billion investment in nurse education as part of a comprehensive workforce plan to meet patient need and ensure safe staffing.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We agree with the NAO that the NHS Long Term Plan, published last week, is a prudent and practical routemap for improving health and care.’


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