Whitehall complacency unacceptable when challenged about NHS staffing

News stories about problems in the NHS invariably contain a comment from the Department of Health, but such responses often reveal complacency and a disregard for the consequences of short staffing

Read a news story that highlights a problem afflicting the NHS and invariably towards the end there will be a quote attributed to a spokesperson from the Department of Health (DH). In most cases these are ‘cut and paste’ statements sent out by email by a press officer in Whitehall.

For a typical example see any story about the RCN’s warning this week that there are not enough registered nurses on duty in England’s 50 largest NHS trusts.

Analysis by the college revealed that in 91% of the organisations the skill mix is being diluted due to a lack of nurses, especially at night.

Dubious claims

News reporters covering the story will have called the DH press office for a response. Are these claims true? If not, what’s the real picture? If so, what’s being done about it?

The government has long since stopped responding properly to such questions, and instead issues statements that reveal a breathtaking level of complacency and an apparent disregard for the consequences of short staffing for nurses and their patients.

In this case, the DH spokesperson said: ‘We expect all parts of the NHS to make sure they have the right staff, in the right place, at the right time to provide safe care – that's why there are already almost 26,000 extra clinical staff, including almost 11,400 additional doctors and over 11,200 additional nurses on our wards since May 2010.’

Such statements are frankly insulting. The staffing crisis in England is of the government’s making, and hiding behind dubious claims about nurse numbers is unacceptable.