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Workforce shortages present 'major obstacle' to NHS Long Term Plan, warns PAC

The Public Accounts Committee says the NHS will not deliver against the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’ unless the current 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS are addressed.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Source: Courtesy of Meg Hillier

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said staff shortages are a “clear threat” to the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’

The government “underestimates the challenges” of delivering on its long-term plan in England, in the face of workforce shortages and a lack of financial planning, a report from the the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

In the ‘NHS financial sustainability: progress review’, published on 3 April 2019, the PAC says the £20bn funding settlement given to the NHS in June 2018 and the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’, published in January 2019, “present an opportunity to bring back stability to the health system”.

But it added that the NHS “will not deliver against the plan” unless the current 100,000 staff vacancies in the health service are addressed.

“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,” the report said.

“The lack of clarity on funding for adult social care, capital, public health and education and training also presents significant risk to the NHS’s ability to deliver the long-term plan.”

The report added that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England and NHS Improvement have “painted an overly positive picture of the future financial sustainability of the NHS, lacked detail on delivering the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’, and underestimate the challenges the NHS faces in delivering its long-term plan”.

The PAC has requested a response from the DHSC by July 2019 detailing how recruitment and retention issues will be addressed in the upcoming workforce strategy.

Speaking to parliament at the launch of the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’ in January 2019, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said he had commissioned Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, to oversee “a rapid programme of work … to build a workforce implementation plan”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC and MP for London’s Hackney South and Shoreditch, said: “Staff shortages are a clear threat to the delivery of the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’ and by July [2019] we expect to see evidence that government has a plan to address them.”

“If the long-term plan is to be more than just an aspiration, then government must engage fully with the detail and ensure necessary resources are directed to the right places.”

The PAC review came after the The King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation said a minimum of 3,000 extra pharmacists are needed in general practice across England by 2024 to help mitigate GP workforce shortages.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206376

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