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NHS chiefs urge new government to fix staffing crisis

Vast majority of NHS managers say understaffing is compromising care

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Health leaders are urging the incoming government to tackle critical shortages of doctors and nurses or face a serious deterioration in the quality of NHS care.

The NHS Confederation questioned 131 senior leaders, including chief executives, chairs and directors to gauge their priorities for the next government.


Over three quarters (76%) said that supporting and growing the NHS workforce should be a critical priority, ranking it highest at a time when there are more than 100,000 vacancies among clinical and nursing staff.

Nine in 10 (90%) claimed that understaffing was putting patient safety and care at risk, according to a survey carried out by the NHS Confederation.


Nearly all (98%) share the view that the worsening social care crisis is having a damaging knock-on impact on the NHS and patient care. Every single respondent felt that like the NHS, the social care sector needs its own long-term plan and significant investment.

More than four in five (83%) believe that the NHS Pension Scheme is having a detrimental impact on workforce pressures, with nearly seven in 10 (69%) saying it is damaging patient care.

The findings come as latest performance statistics for the NHS last week show that demand for services has continued to rise, with the NHS treating more people than ever before. However, key targets for hospital care and A&E have hit their worst levels since the standards were introduced in 2004.

Nearly three in five (58%) believe this winter will be the worst on record for waiting times and performance across the NHS.

While the existing targets have led to vital reductions in how long patients wait for treatment, nearly two thirds (65%) of the leaders surveyed now feel that the measures are not “fit for purpose”. More than seven in 10 (71%) welcome the expected move towards more “nuanced” access standards for the NHS in England.


The standards, including the four-hour target in A&E, have been used to measure the NHS’s performance since 2004 and are currently being reviewed.

The Confederation has published a report, Fit for the future: how should the incoming Government help the NHS?, and has written to the health spokespeople of the leading political parties to outline its key findings.

Chief executive Niall Dickson, said: “Targets have been a force for good and should not be abandoned, but we need to move away from the current cliff-edge approach where several minutes either side of a target represent success or failure. Any changes must underline the need for rapid access to treatment but in a way that ensures patients with the most urgent needs are given priority.

“There is no quick fix for all the challenges facing the NHS in England but there is a direction of travel laid out already in the Long Term Plan, and it is at least encouraging that no political leaders are proposing further reorganisation.”

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