MPs have warned healthcare workers have been under ‘constant pressure’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and called for a Government plan to support them by the end of October.
Healthcare staff were ‘already under pressure before the pandemic’ and are ‘now tackling backlogs whilst carrying high numbers of vacancies’, a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, released on Sunday, highlighted.
The Government has vowed to begin a public inquiry into its handling of the pandemic in 2022 but the committee warned this could take years to complete. It concluded: ‘We are clear that government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons.’
MPs urged the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set out its plan to ‘provide mental health and emotional support to NHS staff’ by the end of October in writing to the PAC. An update on a substantiative long-term NHS workforce plan should also be provided by the end of December, it added.
They pointed out that the NHS entered the pandemic with about 40,000 nursing vacancies and 9,000 medical vacancies, as of February 2020. There were also ‘longstanding staffing issues and backlogs’ because of a ‘failure of workforce planning’.
These ‘pre-existing challenges’, which had led to ‘longstanding staffing issues and backlogs’, worsened ‘the impact of the pandemic’ on both the public and the healthcare workforce‘, they said.
The PAC also raised concerns about that PPE supply remains ‘not fit for purpose’, after finding 2.1bn items of PPE – representing 6% of stock– ordered by the DHSC had not passed the initial quality assurance for use in medical settings as of 7 June.
They urged the Government to update PPE data – including number, costs, manufacturing, and storage – quarterly, in order to tackle this ‘unacceptably high’ level of potential waste.
Another report from the PAC, also released on Sunday, estimated the lifetime cost of the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic reached £327bn by May 2021 and exposed the taxpayer to ‘significant financial risks for decades to come’.
Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers deputy chief executive, said: ‘Trust leaders will welcome the report’s recommendation that the Government do more to support the health and social care workforce, who have faced relentless pressure during the pandemic, in order to ensure their continuing resilience.’
Mr Cordery also agreed that a fully costed and funded NHS workforce plan. He added: ‘We need enough staff not only to plug existing workforce gaps, but to build flexibility into the system. We believe this is the best way to ensure staff wellbeing in the long term.’
The RCN highlighted this month that the UK Government has ‘ignored’ 21 warnings about the nursing workforce since 2016, including ten in the last year.
Umbrella-groups this also called for healthcare workforce requirements to be looked at annually following the announcement the HEE will carry out a one-off review of workforce trends.
In May, practitioners and healthcare leaders told Nursing in Practice that nurse burnout will become a rising problem as we emerge from the initial impact of the pandemic.