Flexible working must be made easier in order to stop nurses leaving the NHS or reducing their hours, says Jeremy Hunt.
The former health secretary and current chair of the health and social care select committee has warned that nurses in the NHS must be offered better opportunities to pursue flexible working.
This comes as the health and social care committee’s (HSC) workforce report concluded that the NHS and social care sector are ‘facing the greatest workforce crisis in their history.’
‘The biggest thing for staff in the NHS, that would make it less likely that they leave the NHS or reduce their hours,’ Mr Hunt told Times Radio this morning, ‘is if we made flexible working much easier.
‘If you’re a young doctor or nurse in their 30s and you’ve got family responsibilities or you’ve got older relatives you need to care for, to be able to work flexibly is becoming something that’s absolutely essential.’
There is currently an estimated shortage of 50,000 nurses in the NHS and, while the Government is currently on track with its recruitment targets, little is being done to amend this, with the HSC report finding the Government’s efforts are not making any significant improvements to the current nurse shortage.
The HSC report stated that the Government’s recruitment targets were ‘not having any meaningful impact on the true scale of nursing shortages’.
This staffing shortage has led many trusts to become reliant on expensive agency staff, it said.
The report heard from one senior nurse at an NHS acute trust that their department is reliant on agency staff who may be paid double or triple what full-time staff are paid, some of who have been employed in the same wards for several years.
Improved access to flexible working would reduce number of nurses choosing to work for an agency ‘to regain control of their working life’, it advised.
A spokesperson for the DHSC said: ‘We want the NHS to become a more flexible, modern employer.
‘The NHS People Plan has committed to a range of actions to strengthen flexible working in the NHS, and in September 2021, contractual changes took effect for employees, which includes the right to request flexible working from day one without the need to provide a justification.’
However, while the report welcomed these changes it also added that ‘it is clear that this has been insufficient to
make flexible working a daily reality in the NHS.’
The report concluded: ‘The NHS must commit to a review of flexible working arrangements in all trusts, with a view to ensuring that within 12 months all NHS staff have similar flexibilities in their working arrangements to those enjoyed by locum or agency staff.’