Staffing Crisis Strains Plan to Clear U.K. Hospital Backlogs
(Bloomberg) -- England’s National Health Service faces an “unquantifiable” challenge to clear a record backlog of patients as a result of the pandemic, rising pressure on emergency departments, and a failure to hire and train enough staff, a committee of U.K. lawmakers said.
Close to 6 million patients are waiting for elective care -- a figure that could double by 2025 -- as the crisis caused by Covid-19 weighs heavily on the NHS, according to a report published Thursday by Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee.
Waiting times in emergency departments have also hit the worst levels since records began, with one in four patients waiting longer than four hours to be admitted, transferred, or discharged in October. That’s despite about 4,800 extra doctors and 1,200 more nurses working in the NHS in October 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the latest NHS workforce statistics.
The government’s failure to create a long-term plan for hiring and training enough staff to ease this growing pressure will make any recovery from the pandemic harder, the lawmakers said.
“Our report finds that the government’s recovery plan risks being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis,” said Jeremy Hunt, member of Parliament and the chair of the health and social care committee. “Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than day to day firefighting unless the government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix this issue.”
The lawmakers said although the government has provided additional funding to help the NHS tackle waiting lists, it has rejected proposals to produce regular short and long-term independently-audited workforce projections for doctors, nurses or care staff.
“We continue to believe that giving hope to NHS staff that the appropriate number of new staff will be trained in the future is the biggest single measure the Government can take to gain the confidence of frontline staff that it has a grip of this problem,” the report said.
The report said that the NHS must also devise a plan for dealing with patients with long Covid symptoms. Around 1.2 million people in the U.K. said they were experiencing the condition at the end of October. The report found many failed to get proper treatment due to a mix of staff shortages, inconsistent care standards across the country and inappropriate understanding of long Covid in primary care.
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