Theresa May warned that her NHS plan ‘won't be delivered’ without boosting staff numbers
The NHS must curb falling staff numbers and employ more from overseas if Theresa May’s long-term plan for the service is to become a reality, MPs have warned.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the current state - of around 100,000 empty posts across the health service, including 40,000 nurses - is "unsustainable".
Their report comes after last year’s announcement by the Prime Minister of an extra £20bn for NHS England by 2023-24, and a subsequent plan by the health service on how it would spend it.
The NHS's proposals included increasing early cancer diagnosis, improving mental health support and care in the community.
But in a stark warning, the MPs said the health service’s situation “will rapidly reach crisis point” unless it can begin to retain staff or to attract enough staff from abroad.
They say NHS bosses appear to be “banking” on numbers improving, despite the potential for working and residency statuses becoming more complicated by Brexit.
“The NHS will not be able to deliver on the Long Term Plan unless it addresses staffing shortages,” the report states.
“Trust chief executives consider that staffing shortages in the NHS is the biggest challenge facing trusts and is one of the biggest threats to financial sustainability in the NHS.
“This has been an ongoing concern for the Public Accounts Committee: as the matter stands, there is little sign of the staffing shortfall improving.”
The group accuses ministers and NHS bodies of having “painted an overly positive picture” of the health service’s financial sustainability and “lacked detail” on how the plan would be delivered and “underestimated” the challenges it would face.
'SIGNIFICANT' LOCAL FUNDING GAPS
Elsewhere the report criticises the funding settlement for not being extended to capital investment, adult social care, for prevention initiatives run by Public Health England and local authorities, and for doctors' and nurses’ training.
It adds that the committee are “particularly concerned about the impact on local authorities, many of which have had to reduce spend on social care, despite rising demand, because of budget cuts”.
The report also says the NHS nearly achieving financial balance in 2017-18 “masks the significant disparities” at local level - with NHS England, Clinical Commissioning Groups and trusts reporting a combined deficit of £21m in the same year.
“The NHS Long Term Plan sets out the expectation that the number of trusts reporting a deficit will be more than halved by 2019-20, and by 2023-24 no trust will be reporting a deficit," the report adds.
“However, it is not clear how organisations furthest away from breaking-even will be supported to achieve financial balance.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Putting the NHS back onto a sustainable financial footing is a key priority of the Long Term Plan and our historic five-year funding settlement of an extra £33.9 billion a year by 2023/24 gives the health service the certainty it needs to deliver world-class care for patients.
"There are tens of thousands more doctors and nurses on our wards than in 2010 and thanks to their dedication, thousands of patients get excellent, safe care every day."
The department promised that an upcoming 'Workforce Implementation Plan' would "set out how we can ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for future years".