Peers demand better workforce planning in health and social care as Government suffer Lords defeat

Peers have thrown down the gauntlet to the Government in demanding better workforce planning in health and social care, amid warnings of a staffing crisis.

Inflicting a defeat on the Conservative frontbench, the House of Lords supported by 171 votes to 119, majority 52, a cross-party move to require regular independent assessments of current and future personnel needs, aimed at tackling shortages.

It follows a Tory rebellion in the Commons, led by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured), in support of similar measures, and sets the stage for a legislative tussle, known as ping-pong, between the upper chamber and elected house, where the Government has a majority.

During earlier stages of the Health and Care Bill, the administration was accused of “wilful blindness” over the need for an evidence-based workforce plan and not being honest about the scale of the staffing problem in the NHS and care services.

Proposing the amendment, Tory former health minister Baroness Cumberlege said: “Workforce is the single greatest problem facing the NHS.

“Without improved planning we will not tackle the growing backlog, not only in procedures but also in appointments within the NHS.

“We will not know if we have the right people in the right place at the right time.

“We will not provide a sustainable work environment for the dedicated staff who are currently working so hard within our services.

“And we will not meet the public’s expectations when they turn to the NHS for care and support.”

She added: “Training more healthcare staff will of course cost more money, but not training more staff costs money too.

“The mismatch between staffing levels and patient demand is leading to significant local spend to plug the gaps.”

Former NHS England chief executive Lord Stevens of Birmingham said: “We need this amendment because we need to look beyond the end of our noses, and to vote against this amendment would be to cut off our noses to spite our face.”

Ex-Test and Trace chief Baroness Harding, who stepped down as head of NHS Improvement in October, said: “Workforce planning needs to happen.

“There is no large employer of people that doesn’t plan their workforce other than the NHS.”

The Conservative peer, who previously revealed she had been gagged from publishing staffing forecasts, told peers: “This is actually an amendment of sound management that enables the NHS to manage finances and people better.”

Independent crossbencher Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, a fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It’s absolutely clear to me that without the right staff in the right place you cannot give the right care.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Merron said: “Workforce planning is at the core of all of the plans and yet it still remains unresolved.

“The lack of sufficient staff trained and able to deliver care is the biggest issue facing the NHS and social care.”

Responding, health minister Lord Kamall said: “Workforce is at the heart of our NHS and social care.

“It is right that we ensure that we have the workforce that we need for the future to keep delivering the world-class, safe and effective health and care.”

He pointed out the Government had commissioned “a robust, long-term, strategic framework” for the health and social care workforce.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kirsty O’Connor / PA.