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Health leaders across England have warned that a lack of staffing and failure to address the pensions crisis is putting care in hospitals at risk.
The NHS Confederation survey found that workforce, reforming social care, and addressing capital investment feature as the most critical priorities for action. The NHS Confederation said that 76 per cent of health leaders surveyed said that supporting and growing the NHS workforce should be a critical priority, ranking it highest at a time that there are more than 100,000 vacancies among clinical and nursing staff.
Beyond this, 90 per cent of the health leaders claimed that understaffing was putting patient safety and care at risk, whilst more than four in five health leaders who took part in the survey believe that the NHS Pension Scheme is having a detrimental impact on workforce pressures, with 69 per cent saying it is damaging patient care.
A further 58 per cent of health leaders surveyed by the NHS Confederation believe this winter will be the worst on record for waiting times and performance across the NHS. This follows news that one in six patients waited longer than four hours in A&E in England during October - the worst-ever performance since the target was introduced in 2004.
Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is heading into this winter with significant staffing and performance challenges. It is therefore little wonder that health leaders are deeply concerned about its ability to cope with demand, despite frontline staff treating more patients than ever.
“The views from our members should send a clear message to whoever forms the new Government on the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and how to make the service fit for the future. Workforce gaps, the growing social care crisis and historic underinvestment are the biggest threats to improving care for patients and transforming services, and each of these issues needs attention, as do the pension rules which are discouraging some doctors from taking on extra work and encouraging others to take early retirement. Alongside these issues, health leaders are clear about the need to reassess how we measure NHS performance with realistic targets that support staff to focus on the right patients at the right time.
“Targets have been a force for good and should not be abandoned, but we need to move away from the current cliff-edge approach where several minutes either side of a target represent success or failure. Any changes must underline the need for rapid access to treatment but in a way that ensures patients with the most urgent needs are given priority. There is no quick fix for all the challenges facing the NHS in England but there is a direction of travel laid out already in the Long Term Plan, and it is at least encouraging that no political leaders are proposing further reorganisation.”
The NHS Confederation carried out the survey across its membership – which includes NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups and local integrated care systems – to gauge their priorities for the next government. 131 senior leaders, including chief executives, chairs and directors responded to the survey.