Staffing crisis: more patients dying earlier or living in pain

Report condemns government’s failure to act on ‘desperate under-staffing’, highlighting impact on backlogs, waiting times and cancer treatment targets

Report condemns government’s failure to act on ‘desperate under-staffing’, highlighting impact on backlogs, waiting times and cancer treatment targets

Photo of a man lying in bed holding his head in pain
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People are dying or living in pain because there are not enough nurses to tackle huge waiting lists for operations and cancer care, say nursing leaders.

The warning follows the publication of a report by a committee of MPs about NHS backlogs and waiting times, which says the government is failing to address ‘desperate under-staffing’ in the NHS.

Six million people in England now waiting for treatment, says report

The report by the Public Accounts Committee says the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have overseen a decline in waiting time performance for cancer and elective care, with a record six million people in England now waiting for treatment.

Committee chair Dame Meg Hiller said the department must improve staffing levels and support.

‘Exhausted and demoralised, they’ve emerged from two hellish years only to face longer and longer lists of sicker people. And this is compounded by staffing shortages in a number of professional areas,’ she said.

RCN highlights link between nurse shortages, waiting lists and safe care

RCN England director Patricia Marquis said nursing shortages were contributing to delays in treatment that meant many patients were living in pain for longer or dying earlier.

‘The committee are right to highlight the desperate understaffing that is undermining our members’ attempts to give safe and effective care,’ she said. ‘Far too little was done about this before the pandemic and we – nurses and patients – are paying the price.’

The RCN is calling on the government to commit to fair pay for nursing in the chancellor’s spring statement next week.

This is not the first time ministers have faced fierce criticism for a lack of workforce planning that many claim left the NHS ill-equipped to cope with the extra challenges posed by the pandemic.

The House of Lords recently voted for an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would require the government to publish workforce projections every two years.

The Public Accounts Committee said the NHS should publish an assessment of how the workforce – including nurse numbers – will change over the next three years.

Government plans include ‘multibillion-pound’ three-year investment

A DHSC spokesperson maintained the government was tackling challenges ‘head on’.

‘We have set out our action plan to deal with the COVID backlog and deliver long-term recovery and reform, backed by a record multibillion-pound investment over the next three years, and our 10-Year Cancer Plan,’ they said.

Plans include increasing workforce capacity and addressing gaps in key staff groups, such as nurses.

Find out more

House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts: NHS Backlogs and Waiting Times in England 2021-22

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