Commons votes to reject ‘evidence-led approach’ to NHS workforce planning proposals

MPs have rejected proposals aimed at improving workforce planning in health and social care in England.

The Commons voted 249 to 167, majority 82, to reject a Lords amendment to the Health and Care Bill aimed at making sure all future staffing decisions were based on an evidence-led approach.

It would have required the Government to publish regular independent assessments of current and future personnel needs, aimed at tackling shortages.

But health minister Edward Argar said the Government was “committed to improving workforce planning” in the NHS and was already taking steps to address staffing problems.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) said: “Any Government that cares about the long-term future of the NHS has an absolute responsibility to make sure that we are training enough doctors and nurses for the future.

“But any Government that cares about value for money for taxpayers should welcome a measure that will help us control a locum and agency budget which has got massively out of control.”

Mr Hunt, now chairman of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, said the biggest pressure on the NHS is now workforce, and said: “This is a wholly innocuous amendment which simply asks the Government every two years to publish independent projections of the numbers of doctors and nurses we should be training.

“The Government is rejecting it because it thinks it will compel the Government to train more doctors. That is true, but it is ignoring the fact that this is the best way to reduce the £6.2 billion locum bill that is currently devastating the NHS bill.”

Labour MP Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) said “consistent” failure to invest in the workforce and provide a plan for staffing is “at the root of the challenges the NHS and social care face today”.

The former shadow health minister told the Commons: “You can have the grandest plans, strategy documents, reorganisations, integrations and configurations, all of which we probably got in this Bill in various forms but all that will count the fundamental cog in the machine, the workforce, is not a central part of those plans.

“And I believe that the consistent failure to invest in the workforce and to provide a plan for the workforce so that it is able to meet demand over a sustained period is at the root of the challenges the NHS and social care face today.”

Shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting, meanwhile, claimed Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Mr Argar were in a “Treasury-imposed straitjacket”.

He added: “Unless we face up to the scale of the workforce challenge the Government simply will not deliver the shorter waiting times that patients need until they break out of their straitjacket.”

Mr Argar urged MPs not to back the amendment, explaining that the issue required a “dynamic” approach.

The health minister said: “I want to reassure the House the Government is committed to improving workforce planning. We recognise the importance of having a properly trained workforce in sufficient numbers and in the right places.

“We are already taking the steps we need to ensure we have record numbers of staff working in the NHS.”

The minister added that there were now “record numbers of staff” in the NHS, and that the Government was on target to meet its goal of recruiting 50,000 new nurses by the end of the Parliament.

The division list showed that 10 Conservative MPs rebelled against the Government to back the Lords amendment.

They were former health secretary Mr Hunt, former health minister Steve Brine, former ministers Damian Green and Harriett Baldwin, Peter Aldous (Waveney), Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet), and Derek Thomas (St Ives).

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