Health sector ‘dismayed’ at missed opportunity to address NHS workforce issues in Budget

The Chancellor “missed an opportunity” to fix NHS workforce challenges, health leaders have said.

The Budget documents state that: “The Government will provide hundreds of millions of pounds in additional funding over the SR21 period to ensure a bigger and better trained NHS workforce.”

While extra funds for the health service have been welcomed, NHS leaders, charities and royal colleges have expressed dismay that the workforce wasn’t a central issue in Rishi Sunak’s Budget.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said that workforce shortages are “the health service’s biggest problem”.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “NHS trust leaders will welcome the confirmed extra £5.9 billion capital spending on NHS buildings, equipment and digital technology over the next three years.

“Trust leaders will be disappointed and frustrated that there is no confirmed, multi-year increase in Health Education England’s NHS education and training budget. Workforce shortages and the resulting unsustainable workload for existing NHS staff are currently the health service’s biggest problem.

“They can only be tackled with a robust long-term workforce plan and increased longer-term investment in workforce expansion, education and training, none of which are currently in place.”

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “Health leaders are grateful the Chancellor has listened to their pleas and allocated extra public spending for the NHS, but to ensure the extra money delivers for the public, a strong and supported NHS workforce is needed.

“This is why training and increasing the supply of doctors, nurses and other health and care professionals is so important at a time when public polling recognises that staffing is the biggest problem facing the NHS.

“It is unclear how the growth in planned departmental spending will affect NHS training and education budgets.”

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “It’s no good having new equipment if there aren’t enough skilled staff to make use of it. The size of the NHS workforce is one of the biggest limiting factors on our ability to get services back on track. To make the most of this new funding we need enough staff to conduct tests and deliver treatment, which is why we’re disappointed that the Government didn’t take the opportunity to significantly increase the number of medical school places.”

Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, added: “Today’s statement sets the direction for the next few years but completely misses the chance to address years of absent workforce planning.”

Meanwhile, cancer charities also expressed dismay about a lack of attention paid to the cancer workforce.

Minesh Patel, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, added: “Once again the Government has refused to address the enormity of the crisis facing the cancer workforce. Even before the pandemic, staff were overburdened and thinly stretched, leaving people with cancer struggling to get the vital care and support they need.

“While we welcome the much-needed funding to tackle the backlog, the Government must urgently invest in the recruitment, training and retention of specialist cancer nurses in order to future-proof our cancer workforce in the years to come.”

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