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Staffing crisis risks derailing attempts to solve hospital backlog, MPs warn

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Attempts to deal with record waiting lists for hospital treatment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are at risk of being derailed by a staffing crisis, which is being exacerbated by the Omicron wave, a cross-party lawmakers’ report said on Thursday (January 6).

The report entitled ‘Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic’ calls for a broader national health and care recovery plan — one that would embrace A&E, mental health, GPs, community and social care.

Hospitals are facing extreme pressure as they try to catch up on months of operations that have been delayed and suspended during the pandemic, as Covid-19 hospitalizations rise once more and self-isolation hits staffing levels.

There is a record 5.8 million waiting list for elective care, the Health and Social Care Committee said, adding that a recent surge in the Omicron variant has pushed cases to record highs and intensified pre-existing issues.

“Our report finds that the government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis,” committee chair Jeremy Hunt said, adding there was no clear plan to address a burnt-out workforce and 93,000 vacancies in the NHS.

“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 the issue.”

The committee urged the health ministry to work with the state-run NHS to produce a recovery plan by April.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that Omicron will make the next few weeks challenging, and that there will be staffing disruptions, as he aims to ride out the wave of infections without further restrictions in England.

With waiting times in October 2021 already the worst since records began, the committee said that there should be an independent assessment of the NHS workforce at least every 2 years to ensure enough doctors and nurses are being trained.

Report calls for robust workforce planning: RPS

Commenting on the report, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England Thorrun Govind said: “Pharmacists and pharmacy teams across the health service have shown enormous dedication to patient care throughout the pandemic. This latest committee report highlights once again the urgent need for robust workforce planning and support.

“With winter pressures and a spike in Covid-related staff absences, this also means prioritising essential work, cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, and ensuring pharmacists can take adequate rest breaks. The pandemic has shown just how important it is that the Government and NHS support collaboration across health professions to maintain patient access to care.

“If we are to clear the immediate backlog of care from the pandemic and support the NHS recovery in the longer-term, then we must see investment in pharmacy as part of a comprehensive workforce strategy.”

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