College President Professor Jackie Taylor, has written today to Matt Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to set out what the college believes should be the new UK government’s health priorities for the coming parliament. The call comes on the day that the Secretary of State officially presents the NHS Funding Bill to the House of Commons. The proposed legislation will guarantee a specific level of funding of the health service in England until March 2024.
In her letter, Professor Taylor calls on the government to tackle the growing workforce crisis in the NHS as its priority, while also ensuring that action is taken to improve the wellbeing of NHS staff. The college also offers its support and expertise to government and others who are working to address these urgent issues.
While publishing her letter, Professor Taylor said:
“The NHS was high on the agenda during last year’s general election campaign, but our membership fears that headline grabbing initiatives may be a greater priority than addressing the fundamental issues at the heart of our current NHS crisis. While we all would welcome the recruitment of additional nursing staff and a guarantee of funding for the health service, implementing these policies alone will not make the positive difference to patient care that everyone wants to see.
“We currently have critical shortages of clinical staff at all levels of the NHS and across the range of medical specialties. We need a plan to fill these gaps in both the short and longer term if we’re to give patients the standard of care they expect, and to protect the profession from stress and overwork. We are in a cycle of understaffing and overwork which must be broken.”
The full text of the letter is as follows:
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Department of Health and Social Care
39 Victoria Street
Dear Secretary of State,
Priorities for the new government
Congratulations on your re-appointment as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care following the General Election last month.
Our College is committed to listening to our membership and standing up for their interests. That’s why in the lead up to the election our College published our list of health priorities for the new government, on behalf of our nine thousand members throughout the UK.
We believe that the first priority of the new government should be to address our workforce crisis by increasing the supply of medical professionals, and to take urgent action to retain those who already work in the NHS. Combined with the ongoing squeeze on funding, the current workforce crisis facing our health service is a threat to patient safety and the future viability of the NHS itself. It’s vital that this government takes urgent action to increase the supply of clinicians into our system, and to urgently address the retention of those who are already working in the NHS.
Specifically, we believe that action is required to:
- Expand our Medical Schools to increase the number of places for UK-based students and those on graduate entry programmes
- Ensure that we can recruit additional staff from outside the UK by:
- Increasing in the number of places available through the Medical Training Initiative
- Reinstating permit free training
- Ensure that health care workers from EU member states do not face additional barriers to come and work in the UK after Brexit
- Address serious concerns with NHS Pensions, which are exacerbating the current workforce crisis by acting as a disincentive to take on additional shifts, and is driving many senior clinicians to early retirement. Changes to the scheme should simplify the pensions system, and avoid the imposition of large one-off tax bills when consultants take on additional shifts
At the same time, our membership has reported that they are under more pressure than ever before, and this stress is taking its toll on their ability to carry out their jobs and their life outside work. This is why action is required now to improve the wellbeing of existing staff within the health service. While we welcome your recent announcement of investment to reduce the time staff spend logging into our various IT accounts within the NHS, we believe that further action is required improve patient care and help retain staff.
That’s why we ask that action is taken to:
- Improve the flexibility offered to NHS staff at all levels to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to work flexibly or less than full time, including at the end of a career in the NHS
- Ensure that NHS Employers appoint a Non-Exec Director with responsibility for workplace culture/wellbeing and one for educational governance
- Implement in full the findings from the GMC Wellbeing Advisory Group, who published “Caring for doctors, Caring for Patients” late last year
Our health service does a fantastic job, and I’m sure that you will agree with me that its staff are its greatest asset.
Our College is already working in partnership with others, including the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, to play our part in supporting these aims. We would be grateful, therefore, for any opportunity to work with you or your department in order to ensure that our priorities are achieved for the benefit of the NHS, its staff and our patients.
Professor Jackie Taylor
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow