Workforce planning is “at the heart of the solution” to workforce burnout and resilience, MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee have said in a new report.
The report, which follows the Committee’s inquiry into workforce and staff burnout in the health service, has concluded that workforce burnout across the NHS and social care has reached an emergency level and poses a risk to the future functioning of both services. It adds that only a “total overhaul” of workforce planning can provide a solution.
The Committee has noted that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on workforce pressures, but says that witnesses told them of staff shortages across the health service prior to the pandemic. It adds that such shortages are the biggest driver of workforce burnout.
On workforce planning in the NHS in particular, the report says:
- Available funding is generally the driver behind planning, rather than the level of demand or staffing capacity needed to service it.
- Witnesses generally agreed that the NHS workforce was overstretched and had been for some time. The Committee heard that the current approach to workforce planning was “incoherent” and that the current level of funding for education and training was “inadequate”, with the NHS reliant on overseas recruitment.
- Staff shortages are “endemic” across the NHS and not restricted to one area of health and social care. The report noted the high levels of vacancies immediately prior to the pandemic, including the need for 40,000 extra nurses in England alone.
- It concludes that without adequate funding, the NHS People Plan’s aspirations will not become reality and its delivery will depend on the level of resourcing allocated to it. It also concludes that annual, independent workforce projections would help provide the health service with the clarity required for long-term workforce planning.
In the report, the Committee has recommended on workforce planning that the Department for Health and Social Care publishes regular, costed updated along with delivery timelines for all of the proposals in the People Plan. It has also called for objective, transparent and independently-audited annual reports on workforce projections that cover the next five, ten and twenty years including an assessment of whether sufficient numbers are being trained.
Chair of the Committee, Jeremy Hunt MP,said: “Workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services.
“An absence of proper, detailed workforce planning has contributed to this, and was exposed by the pandemic with its many demands on staff. However, staff shortages existed long before Covid-19.
“Staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout. It will simply not be possible to address the backlog caused by the pandemic unless these issues are addressed.
“Achieving a long-term solution demands a complete overhaul of workforce planning. Those plans should be guided by the need to ensure that the long term supply of doctors, nurses and other clinicians is not constrained by short-term deficiencies in the number trained. Failure to address this will lead to not just more burnout but more expenditure on locum doctors and agency nurses.”
In response to the report, the Royal College of Nursing’s Acting General Secretary, Pat Cullen, said: “The unprecedented demand on nursing staff during the pandemic has had a huge impact on their own wellbeing. But, as this report shows, the cracks in the systems designed to look after nursing staff appeared years ago.
“The Department of Health and Social Care needs to prevent more nursing staff ‘burning out’ or leaving the profession entirely by boosting recruitment and retention.
“The forthcoming Health and Social Care Integration Bill provides an important opportunity to address this by making population-based workforce assessments and overall safe staffing levels of the whole health and care system a legal duty for the Health Secretary.”
Liaison Workforce Managing Director, Judith Shaw, agrees: “We are hearing time and time again about the necessity to have effective workforce planning in the short, medium and long term in order to address staff shortages and avoid staff burnout. This is so essential across all levels of staffing for the everyday wellbeing of staff, many of whom find themselves covering gaps or ‘making do’ without support and were doing so before Covid, the pandemic has just exacerbated the situation.
“We continue to offer the solutions and expertise to help. For example, our workforce demand and risk planning tool – mii People Planning – facilitates a digital conversation with managers on a regular basis, allowing them to actively identify critical issues associated with the fair and equal management of talent, addressing skills gaps, retention and performance challenges. The use of such a tool connects the HR function directly to frontline health and care, enabling better and long-term workforce planning across an integrated care system.”