By Sarah Bates
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‘Greatest workforce crisis’ in NHS is putting people at risk, warns new MPs’ report

This article is over 1 years, 6 months old
‘The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety’ is a result of decades of cuts and privatisation
Issue 2815
The Unison union bloc, includong NHS workers, on the TUC march in June 2022. Marchers carry placards reading 'If pay doesn't rise we will'

NHS workers marching in London last month say they are ‘running on empty’ (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Part of the NHS is close to the collapse, and the Tories are to blame. That’s an accusation levelled not just by socialists but by the government’s own MPs.

The cross-party Commons health and social care select committee has levelled a series of damaging accusations in its new report, released on Monday.

It said the health service is facing “the greatest workforce crisis” that is putting ordinary people at serious risk of harm. And it blasted the Tories for an “absence of a credible government strategy”.

One of the major problems is the service-wide problem of job vacancies, argues the report. It says the NHS could be short of up to 50,000 nurses and 8,016 doctors.

This is even higher than the NHS official figures suggest, because hospitals don’t advertise posts if they can’t afford to fill them. It shows the rot that underfunding, privatisation and poor pay have caused in the health service.

“The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, both for routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness,” the report says.

And it shows that even if health bosses accept they must take on new workers, instead they are losing them. The government conceded that last year that England needed 2,000 more midwives to provide safe care for women and children.

Yet instead of increasing the amount of midwives, actually some 552 were lost between March 2021 and March 22. And it warned that former health secretary Sajid Javid’s pledge to have 6,000 by 2024 is ringing hollow.

It blasted the government’s “refusal to do proper workforce planning” and “marked reluctance to act decisively”. But it’s not that the government have implanted a good plan badly.

The government has undertaken a systematic dismantling of key NHS services, and deliberate underfunding of the entire sector. It has presided over poverty pay for NHS workers, stripped away funding for NHS training and put up additional barriers for migrant workers.

And years of poisonous privatisation schemes, many pioneered by Tony Blair’s Labour party, opened the door to outsourcing and sell-offs.

Crisis is business for private care

Long NHS waiting times appear to be pushing people into paying thousands of pounds for private treatment.

There were 69,000 self-funded treatments in Britain in the final three months of last year. That’s a 39 percent rise on the same period before the pandemic.

The BBC has seen evidence of people taking out loans and resorting to crowdfunding to pay for private treatment.

The figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network do not include those who have private insurance. Instead they are the people paying the full cost of treatment themselves, leaving them liable for huge bills.

The numbers paying for care topped 250,000 last year. For common operations like hip and knee replacements, the costs can be more than £15,000.

Patient groups warned there was a risk of a two-tier system being created. The poorest were most likely to lose out because they were the least likely to be able to afford to pay for treatment.

Bosses worry sick workers hit profits

The bosses’ Financial Times newspaper thinks the NHS crisis is hitting any chance of making British capitalism competitive.

It reported, “The number of working-age Britons who are neither employed nor seeking work has risen in almost every quarter since the end of 2019, and was higher in the first quarter of 2022 than at any time since the pandemic hit.

“Chronic illness is the main driver of this stalled labour recovery. Of the roughly half a million Britons aged 15-64 missing from the workforce, two in three cite long-term illness as their reason for not holding or seeking a job.

“We may be witnessing the collapse of the NHS, as hundreds of thousands of patients, unable to access timely care, see their condition worsen to the point of being unable to work.

“The 332,000 people who have been waiting more than a year for hospital treatment in Britain is a close numerical match for the 309,000 now missing from the labour force due to long-term sickness.”

Former hospitals boss wants patient fees

Health bosses want us to pay for the crisis in the NHS. At least that’s the plan of professor Stephen Smith, set out in his new book.

He wants patients to be charged £4-8 for every day receiving hospital treatment and for over 60s across Britain to start paying for their prescriptions. Smith, former chair of East Kent acute hospital trust, says that “the public would be prepared to pay some additional charges”.

And he also wants people to pay fines if they miss appointments. This system of “co-payments”, he claims, would help prop up the NHS under “unsustainable” pressure. Meanwhile, he claims that the rich should receive tax breaks if they take out private health insurance.

It’s a shameless grab to make the poorest—and most unwell—pay for treatment, while making it effectively free for the rich.

Doctor John Punting, Keep Our NHS Public co-chair said, “Charging people to cover part of the cost of a hospital stay would be a fundamental departure from the founding principles of the NHS and show that the longstanding consensus on tax-funded public service healthcare has been truly abandoned.”

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