An amendment to the Health and Care Bill tabled by House of Commons health select committee chair and former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt would require the government to report regularly on workforce planning, amid growing evidence of a chronic shortage of NHS staff.
More than 60 organisations – including the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) – are backing the amendment.
It comes just weeks after health and social care secretary Sajid Javid admitted that the government was not on track to deliver its manifesto commitment to increase the full-time equivalent GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024.
The BMA estimates that every FTE GP in England is now caring for around 300 more patients on average than in 2015.
Meanwhile an RCP census carried out last year found that physician vacancies have hit their highest point in nearly a decade – with 48% of consultant posts advertised across the UK unfilled.
BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said that a ‘woeful lack of planning’ had left the NHS short of doctors before the pandemic – and that COVID-19 pressure had brought the shortfall into ‘devastating focus’.
He said: ‘The government urgently needs to come up with answers to solve this crisis – both in the short and long term. The increasing numbers of medical students is positive but far more needs to be done.
‘The absurd and damaging pensions taxation issues that force senior doctors to reduce their hours or even retire early must be urgently addressed – something the chancellor failed to do last month in the Spending Review.
‘We also need to support the health and wellbeing of our workforce, who are reporting feeling exhausted and burned out, and address the decade of real-terms pay cuts.
‘In the longer term we need the government to be held accountable for ensuring safe staffing in the NHS – laying out how many staff we need and how it plans to meet this. The BMA, alongside our colleagues in the royal colleges, influential think tanks and charities, is therefore supporting an amendment to the Health and Care Bill in England.’
A briefing on the proposed amendment said the current Health and Care Bill required the government to ‘describe the system in place for assessing and meeting workforce needs’, but did not require it to clarify ‘whether the system is training and retaining enough people to deliver health and care services now and in the future’.
The briefing adds: ‘Workforce is the key limiting factor in the government’s ambitions for health and social care. Regular, independent and public workforce projection data will not solve the NHS workforce crisis. But it will give us the best foundations to take long-term decisions about workforce planning, regional shortages and the skill mix to help the system keep up with service user need.’
Mr Hunt has himself admitted failing to prioritise workforce planning sufficiently while in office as health and social care secretary – and failed to deliver a target set in 2015 to deliver 5,000 more FTE GPs by 2021.