Staff shortages in health and social care could prevent NHS from tackling record waiting list

MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee said the impact of Covid on the NHS backlog has been ‘catastrophic’

Staff shortages and the current demands on emergency services could prevent the NHS working through a massive backlog, according to a new report by the Health and Social Care Committee.

There are now almost six million people on the waiting list for planned NHS care in England, but MPs have been told that “workforce shortages were the key limiting factor on success in tackling the backlog”.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • A record number of 999 calls and current staff shortages are preventing the NHS from reducing the sizeable treatment backlog, but MPs have warned that many staff could quit if they don’t “see light at the end of the tunnel”
  • The Health and Social Care Committee has called on the government to produce a health and care recovery plan, and the plan for tackling workforce requirements which was supposed to be published in November 2021
  • The committee raised concerns that current staffing levels are not adequate, highlighting 93,000 vacancies for NHS positions and “shortages in nearly every specialty”
  • There are currently 5.8million people on NHS England waiting lists, with 300,000 of those waiting more than a year and 12,000 more than two years
  • The committee also highlighted issues within the social care workforce, which currently has 105,000 vacancies and a turnover rate of 28.5%, rising to 38.2% for nurses working in social care.

What’s been said?

Health and Social Care Committee chairman and Tory MP, Jeremy Hunt, said: “The NHS faces an unquantifiable challenge in tackling a backlog of cases caused by the pandemic, with 5.8 million patients waiting for planned care and estimates that the figure could double by 2025.

“However, our report finds that the Government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis.

“The current wave of Omicron is exacerbating the problem, but we already had a serious staffing crisis, with a burnt-out workforce, 93,000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address this.

“Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than day-to-day firefighting unless the Government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix the issue.”

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The pandemic has had an enormous impact on demand for mental health services already struggling with chronic staff shortages.

“This perfect storm has created the largest mental health backlog in NHS history, with over 1.5 million people waiting for treatment.”

Dr David Wrigley, the British Medical Association’s deputy council chair, said: “This wide-ranging and detailed report clearly lays out what a gargantuan challenge the NHS faces.

“The biggest barrier to tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic is a severe staffing crisis and our calls for improved workforce planning have thankfully been heard. It’s now time for the Government to listen too.”

Minesh Patel, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “After years of failing to deliver the long term funding and planning the NHS needs, the Government must now urgently commit the resources required to support and grow the cancer workforce, so that it can tackle the backlog and provide urgent cancer care to everyone who needs it.”

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