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Persistent understaffing of NHS a serious risk to patient safety

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Severe staffing shortages can harm NHS care Severe staffing shortages can harm NHS care

The NHS is facing the greatest workforce crisis in its history, a report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee has found.

The report suggests the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives; evidence on workforce projections say an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade; hospital waiting lists reached a record high of nearly 6.5 million in April. The report finds the Government to have shown a marked reluctance to act decisively.

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‘The findings of the Committee show in the starkest of detail the workforce crisis across the whole of health and social care in England. That persistent understaffing in all care settings poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety should shock ministers into action,’ said RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis.

‘As ministers continue to make claims about the number of new nurses in England, evidence submitted to the Committee found a significant lack of transparency on workforce planning and in fact that 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade just to keep up with patient need.’

Maternity services are flagged as being under serious pressure with more than 500 midwives leaving in a single year. A year ago the Committee’s maternity safety inquiry concluded almost 2,000 more midwives were needed and almost 500 more obstetricians.

‘Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long term plan by the government to tackle it,’ said Health and Social Care Committee Chair Jeremy Hunt.

‘We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need. NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.’

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The present acute on chronic issues with our NHS workforce has already demonstrated that delivering a comprehensive, quality 'cradle to grave' care is no longer realistic or achievable. Regrettably it is my view that health and social care will need to be further rationed and concentrate of 'saving life and limb'. That said, there will need to be all reasonable efforts in maintaining an infrastructure which supports ongoing care and rehabilitation and/or palliative care - this will prove an immense challenge for NHSE and any future Government. A pay scale which truly reflects the outstanding efforts of nurses and other clinicians during these prolonged difficult times would go someway to encouraging nurses to stay working for the NHS.

Mike Paynter RN
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