Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has drawn criticism for not knowing the number of nurses and doctors needed to tackle the care backlog.
Speaking at a Health and Social Care Committee (HSC) hearing yesterday, Mr Javid said a plan setting out the workforce needed for elective care would be published by the end of next month, while a wider workforce plan will ‘hopefully’ be ready by spring.
But he ‘couldn’t give an exact number right now’ on how many nurses, doctors or other clinical staff are needed to clear the backlog. Although there are ‘internal estimates’, these need ‘fine-tuning’ following last week’s spending review, he said.
RCN council chair Carol Popplestone said Mr Javid’s comments ‘won’t have convinced nursing staff, dealing with unsustainable pressures, that he has a coherent plan’.
‘He admits his department doesn’t know exactly how many registered nurses and healthcare professionals we need to clear the backlog,’ she added.
Mr Javid told the committee that he would publish a ‘elective delivery plan’ by the end of November, setting out how the government will tackle the elective care backlog.
He also acknowledged the ‘broader workforce needs beyond electives’ – such as in primary care, community hospitals and social care – and said he has asked Health Education England to deliver a 15-year workforce strategy by spring 2022.
In addition, he said the Department of Health and Social care will publish a ‘strategic narrative’ addressing workforce between the NHS and social care by the end of the year.
Addressing Mr Javid, HSC chair Jeremy Hunt said: ‘The concern that a lot of people have is that there is absolutely no detail in terms of the extra doctors and nurses that you think are going to be necessary.’
The RCN also repeated calls for an amendment to the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill requiring the health secretary to publish a workforce plan once a parliament.
‘No one can compel the health secretary to produce a long-term health and care workforce strategy because there is no explicit legal duty that holds him directly accountable to do this,’ said Ms Popplestone.
Also in the hearing, Dr Luke Evans MP asked Mr Javid whether the ‘roughly’ 9% of the NHS budget that goes towards general practice is enough ‘given the pressure they’re under’.
Mr Javid replied that he ‘doesn’t know’ – but called for a ‘transformative approach’ to dealing with future healthcare challenges and a ‘fresh look’ at how primary care works with other services such as secondary care.
This comes after healthcare bodies said the NHS needs a long-term workforce plan if it is to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.