The RCP has issued a briefing ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on NHS staffing levels tabled by Margaret Greenwood MP.
There are currently 7.1 million people waiting for NHS treatment and over 132,000 full-time equivalent NHS vacancies. Workforce is the biggest barrier to bringing down waiting lists and delivering care in the long run. According to the latest RCP census, over half (52%) of advertised consultant physician posts went unfilled in 2021 – the highest rate of unfilled posts since records began. Of the 52%, 74% went unfilled due to a lack of any applicants at all.
The RCP strongly welcomed the commitment from the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement to publish a long-term workforce plan next year with independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses, and other professionals that the health service will need in 5, 10, and 15 years’ time. The RCP was one of over 100 health and care organisations to call for these independent projections of staff numbers in an open letter to the Chancellor ahead of the Autumn Statement. It is vital that the workforce plan, when it is published, comes with an explicit commitment to deliver the necessary funding. We would welcome clarity on the exact timeframe for publication in 2023.
While we await the publication of that plan, our sights must be on the current challenges faced by doctors, particularly trainees, and other healthcare professionals. Retaining the hardworking staff we already have is crucial to ensuring the NHS has the right staff levels to meet demand. Staff across the entire system are working incredibly hard to manage the fallout from COVID-19 and tackle the backlog. It is vital they feel supported and valued, including by improving their working conditions. The NHS long-term workforce plan due next year must include a range of solutions to reduce burnout and improve retention.