No coherent attempt has been made to assess the headcount implications of major policy initiatives, such as the 7-day NHS, a committee of MPs has warned.
The Public Accounts Committee called on national bodies to get a better grip on the supply of clinical staff in order to address current and future workforce pressures.
The Government has committed to provide an extra £10 billion in funding for the NHS by 2020, but the committee said the government seems to expect this will cover everything—despite not having separately costed 7-day services and other initiatives.
The review says: “We are far from convinced that the Department of Health has any assurance that the increase in funding will be sufficient to meet all of its policy objectives.”
It also finds that NHS trusts have been set unrealistic efficiency targets, which have in turn led to staffing shortfalls.
Inaccurate headcount planning is largely responsible for a “significant increase” in agency costs, says the Committee.
“NHS England told us that some agencies had taken advantage of trusts’ need for staff to charge “rip-off” fees. In fact, the rise in spending is mostly the result of trusts needing to use more agency staff, often to cover vacancies.”
The Committee urges the Department of Health, NHS Improvement and Health Education England to provide “greater national leadership and co-ordinated support to help trusts reconcile financial, workforce and quality expectations”.
It recommends that “all major health policy initiatives should explicitly consider the workforce implications” and calls on the Department to report back by December 2016 with a summary of these implications in relation to the 7-day NHS.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “There are serious flaws in the Government’s approach to staffing the NHS and without urgent action the public will pay for it on multiple fronts.
“Frontline staff such as doctors and nurses are the lifeblood of the service, yet the supply of these staff in England is not keeping pace with demand.
“This poor workforce planning means patients face the possibility of longer waiting times and a greater cost to the public purse.
“It is unacceptable for the Government to blame staffing agencies for the growth in spending in this area when its own mismanagement is a major contributor to the size of the bills.”
On the seven-day service planning, she said: “It beggars belief that such a major policy should be advanced with so flimsy a notion of how it will be funded—namely from money earmarked to cover all additional spending in the NHS to the end of the decade.”