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RCP responds to the Health and Social Care Select Committee report on workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care

The report makes clear that burnout is a ‘widespread reality’ in the health service today and has negative effects on staff mental health, impacting on NHS colleagues and patients. 

The RCP submitted evidence to this inquiry last year, reiterating the need to double the number of medical school places. We must increase capacity in the long term to ease the pressures which negatively impact staff mental health and wellbeing.  

We are therefore pleased that today’s select committee report recognises chronic excessive workload as a key factor in burnout. We very much agree that this cannot be tackled “until the service has the right number of people, with the right mix of skills across both the NHS and care system.” 

As we set out in our workforce planning position paper, increasing the workforce will reduce clinical workloads. That will in turn reduce stress, and increase job satisfaction and retention.  

The pandemic has underlined the staff shortages that have existed for years. At the same time, the ONS estimates that by 2040 there will be over 17 million UK residents aged 65 and above – meaning those potentially requiring geriatric care will make up 24% of the population. 

We have to take steps to increase the workforce now if we are to be ready for that increase in demand. As well as the current shortfall, we expect that around 35% of current consultants across the UK will retire in the next decade..  

We welcome the committee’s recommendation for the Health and Social Care Bill to include “provisions to require Health Education England to publish objective, transparent and independent annual reports on workforce shortages and future staffing requirements that cover the next five, ten and twenty years including an assessment of whether sufficient numbers are being trained.” 

This is the second report this year from the Health and Social Care Select Committee to make this recommendation. As we said before, whether the work is done by HEE or another designated body, the key is that independent data is in the public domain to be scrutinised, and the government has to respond.  The requirement for greater transparency in the form of regular published independent assessments of workforce requirements will not solve the NHS workforce crisis, but it will help to ensure that decisions about investment to expand the workforce are based on the best available evidence.  

In response to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s report, Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The past year has been the hardest many of us in the medical profession have ever faced. We were already struggling to cope with huge swathes of vacancies across the NHS before the pandemic. Staff are now utterly exhausted and running on empty.  

“The Health and Social care select committee is right to focus on long-term workforce planning. It takes years to train as a doctor, so we need to be thinking about encouraging people to study medicine now, with a view to increasing the workforce in 5 or 10 years’ time. We need the number of medical school places to double so that we have enough staff to meet demand in the future. 

“A healthy, happy NHS which is able to provide optimum care for patients, simply cannot be attained without the right number of staff to man it.”