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Jeremy Hunt criticises NHS bosses’ ‘inadequate, vague’ answers on Covid plan and staffing

Shaun Lintern
·3-min read
The NHS has yet to reveal its workforce projection for the NHS alongside its long term plan (PA)
The NHS has yet to reveal its workforce projection for the NHS alongside its long term plan (PA)

Jeremy Hunt, has criticised NHS England for inadequate answers to key recommendations on how the NHS will tackle the coronavirus backlog and increase numbers of NHS staff.

The Commons health select committee chair said Matt Hancock and NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, as well as the NHS chief people officer Prerana Issar, had ignored recommendations by the committee and failed to answer key questions.

Mr Hunt, who was serving as health secretary when the NHS was awarded a five-year real-terms funding boost of £20bn in 2018, has repeatedly asked bosses to make public their projections for how many workers will be needed over the next 10 years to git into the NHS’s long-term plan.

In a new letter sent to the trio last week Mr Hunt accused them of having “ignored or inadequately answered” key recommendations from the committee.

He warned Ms Issar that the failure to produce 10-year workforce projections “would make a mockery” of the idea of a 10-year plan for the NHS, adding: “We know that the seven years of training required for new doctors necessitates a significant time lag between implementation of policy and deployment of staff.

If detailed workforce plans are further delayed, we risk a situation whereby no additional doctors will have completed their training within the lifespan of the NHS 10-year plan.”

The health committee is investigating workforce burnout in the NHS and examining how it is delivering core services during the pandemic.

Mr Hunt said the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England (NHSE) had failed to quantify the scale of the impact of Covid-19 on waiting lists and surgery backlogs and had not set out specifics on restoring services in mental health, dentistry, general practice or elective surgery.

He said: “The committee welcomes the funding announcements for the NHS made as part of the spending review. However, without the backlog of appointments and pent-up demand…being clearly quantified, it remains unclear to what extent, if at all, this additional financial investment will be sufficient in supporting the resumption of non-Covid services.”

On recommendations about supporting NHS staff and their wellbeing Mr Hunt said Ms Issar’s answers were unsatisfactory, adding: “It is frustrating that, in response to the committee asking for information on what further specific steps NHSE would like to take over the coming years to support the mental and physical wellbeing of all NHS staff, the chief people officer has provided limited and vague information.”

He reiterated a demand to know what specific steps would be taken in the next five years to support the mental and physical wellbeing of NHS staff and how a specific promise of £30m extra would be spent.

Mr Hunt said he expected to receive replies to his points within days.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Covid means that last week's government spending review was for one year only. Therefore the inescapable fact is that - just as when Mr Hunt was health secretary - Health Education England does not have a multiyear funding settlement to enable the finalising of future years' training numbers. Furthermore, the covid pandemic - including this second wave - means considerable uncertainty about the demands and knock on effects for the health service in future years, so it will make sense to take stock afresh rather relying on any modelling that predated the pandemic."

The DHSC were approached for comment.

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