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Overhaul needed to tackle NHS and social care workforce burnout emergency

8 June 2021

In a highly critical Report, the Health and Social Care Committee finds that workforce burnout across the NHS and social care has reached an emergency level and poses a risk to the future functioning of both services.

Only a total overhaul of workforce planning can provide a solution, say MPs.
Though covid-19 had a huge impact on workforce pressures, the Committee was told of staff shortages across the NHS and social care prior to the pandemic, with such shortages identified as ultimately the biggest driver of workforce burnout.

The inquiry heard that NHS workforce planning was at best opaque and at worst was responsible for unacceptable pressure on staff. The Report concludes that available funding was the driver behind planning, rather than the level of demand and staffing capacity needed to service it. It further cites the absence of any ‘accurate, public projection’ of workforce requirements in specialisms over the next five to ten years.

Although the inquiry’s terms of reference included workforce resilience in the NHS and social care, evidence cautioned against a focus on the resilience of individual staff members, advising instead to consider systems and systemic solutions.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Chair of Health and Social Care Committee, said:

“ Workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services.

“An absence of proper, detailed workforce planning has contributed to this, and was exposed by the pandemic with its many demands on staff. However, staff shortages existed long before covid-19.

“Staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout. It will simply not be possible to address the backlog caused by the pandemic unless these issues are addressed.

“Achieving a long-term solution demands a complete overhaul of workforce planning. Those plans should be guided by the need to ensure that the long term supply of doctors, nurses and other clinicians is not constrained by short-term deficiencies in the number trained. Failure to address this will lead to not just more burnout but more expenditure on locum doctors and agency nurses.”

Further information

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