Former health secretary accuses Government of sweeping NHS staffing problems under the carpet

Boris Johnson’s Government is “actively choosing” to sweep NHS workforce problems under the carpet, a Tory former health secretary has warned.

Jeremy Hunt made the claim before Tory backbenchers staged two mini rebellions in a bid to retain changes made by the House of Lords to the Health and Care Bill.

Peers had backed calls to improve workforce planning in health and social care in England by requiring ministers to publish regular independent assessments of current and future personnel needs, aimed at tackling shortages.

MPs overturned this amendment by 278 votes to 182, majority 96, although the division list showed 11 Conservative MPs, including Mr Hunt and former health minister Steve Brine, rebelled in an effort to keep the proposal.

The Commons also voted 282 to 183, majority 99, to reject calls by peers for a rethink on the Government’s planned £86,000 cap on care costs.

The division list again showed a total of 11 Tory MPs rebelled, including former health minister Dr Dan Poulter.

Critics of the proposed social care cap have warned the move to count only individual payments towards the limit and not local authority contributions would cost poorer people more in assets than the wealthy.

Both rebellions were smaller than previous Commons revolts by Mr Johnson’s backbenchers on the same matters.

Ahead of the workforce vote, Mr Hunt (pictured) told MPs: “By voting down a simple request to have independent estimates of the numbers of doctors and nurses we should be training, the Government is I am afraid actively choosing to sweep this problem under the carpet.

“So I say to ministers who have listened to these arguments genuinely in good faith that NHS and care staff deserve better after two years of the pandemic and the people waiting for their NHS operations deserve better too.”

Mr Hunt also said that Government claims that 50,000 more nurses would be working by the end of the Parliament were “hollow”.

He added: “Even though we are on track for our 50,000 nurses, the number of vacancies is still not going down. In other words, more nurses does not mean enough nurses and we can never know what enough is unless we are honest enough to ask ourselves the hard questions.”

Health minister Edward Argar said the Government is “already taking the steps we need to ensure we have record numbers of staff working in the NHS”.

He told MPs that a review by Health Education England into long-term strategic workforce trends would be published in the “coming weeks”, and added there were “record numbers” of staff in the NHS, with recent spending paying for the “biggest intake of undergraduate medical students and nurses ever”.

On plans from the Lords to reform the Government’s £86,000 cap on care contributions, the health minister added: “Without the Government’s clause there would be a fundamental unfairness. Two people living in different parts of the country, contributing the same amount, progress toward the cap at different rates based on differences in the amount their local authority is paying.

“We are committed to levelling up and must ensure that people in different parts of the country are benefiting to the same extent. Our provisions support this.”

The Bill, which introduces a series of health and social care reforms, is currently at the stage known as parliamentary ping-pong in which the Commons and Lords try to reach agreement over its wording.

The clock is also now ticking for the legislation with the end of the parliamentary session expected on Thursday.

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