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End NHS staff shortages now, Boris Johnson told

Denis Campbell Health policy editor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Doctors, nurses and NHS bosses have pleaded with Boris Johnson to spend billions of pounds to finally end the chronic lack of staff across the health service.

The strain of working in a perpetually understaffed service is so great that it risks creating an exodus of frontline personnel, they warn the prime minister in a letter published on Wednesday.

They have demanded that the government devise an urgent plan that will significantly increase the size of the workforce of the NHS in England by the time of the next general election in 2024.

Their intervention comes after the latest NHS staff survey found that growing numbers of them feel their work is making them sick and that almost two-thirds believe they cannot do their jobs properly because their organisation has too few people.

Related: NHS poll shows rising toll of work stress on staff health

The letter has been signed by unions and other groups representing most of the NHS’s 1.4 million-strong workforce, including the Royal College of Nursing, British Medical Association and Unison. NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation, which both represent hospital trusts, have also endorsed it, as has the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, a professional body for the UK’s 240,000 doctors.

In the letter they draw attention to the fact that the NHS in England has almost 90,000 vacancies: “We are very aware of the strain and stress placed on NHS services and teams by the vacancies we see across services and roles. There is a very real risk that these vacancies are the greatest threat to the retention of our people.”

Johnson has lavished praise on NHS staff for their dedication and hard work in treating huge numbers of Covid patients during the pandemic, and acknowledged his personal debt to them after his spell in intensive care with the disease in April 2020. But his decision to offer NHS staff only a 1% pay rise this year has triggered an outcry, including from some Conservative MPs.

The NHS’s much-vaunted People Plan, drawn up by the Conservative peer Lady Harding in her role as chair of NHS Improvement, has not led to meaningful changes to increase staff numbers – with government reluctance to spend the money needed the reason, the signatories claim.

“It appears that no such plan can be developed because the government has not been able to commit to funding the implications … Billions in additional investment will be required by the end of this parliament to address these longstanding issues of supply and education,” the letter adds.

Demanding that staff shortages be banished once and for all, the authors tell the prime minister that staff are “exhausted” after a year fighting Covid and ask him to “give them hope – hope that there is a plan, matched by investment, which will address shortages of NHS staff in the medium and long term”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This government is committed to supporting the NHS and its staff in the fight against Covid and beyond the pandemic through the NHS People Plan. There are over 6,600 more doctors and 10,900 more nurses working in our NHS, compared to last year, and we are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament.”

The spokesperson said an extra 1,500 places had been created in medical schools, and an undergraduate studying to become a nurse, midwife, physiotherapist or occupational therapist now received at least £5,000 a year to help with living costs.