Severe pressures in A&E should be a wake up call for government to tackle workforce crisis

Responding to the publication by NHS England of the monthly performance statistics, Hugh Alderwick, Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said:

‘Today’s data highlight the extreme pressure on NHS patients and staff, with millions of people feeling the negative effects of a health system struggling under unbearable strain.

‘Despite the incredible efforts of NHS staff, there are now more than 6 million people waiting for routine hospital treatment, with nearly 300,000 waiting more than a year in February – including 23,000 waiting more than two years. Emergency care is also under severe pressure: 22,500 patients waited more than 12 hours on trolleys in emergency departments for a hospital bed last month, compared to less than 700 in March last year.

‘These pressures are not evenly distributed, with some areas hit harder than others. Over 1 in 10 people waiting for routine hospital treatment in Birmingham have already waited over a year, compared to just 1 in 100 in South West London.

‘Part of the pressures are clearly due to COVID-19, with many staff off sick or self-isolating and the virus continuing to disrupt care. Government must be honest about the impact of ‘living with Covid’ on the NHS and social care. But the health system was already struggling before the pandemic – hampered by a decade of underinvestment in health and social care and chronic staff shortages. The NHS now faces staffing gaps of around 110,000.

‘Staff and patients know that action is needed to address systemic workforce shortages – and today’s figures should be a wake-up call for government. Tackling the enormous backlog of unmet need depends on having enough staff to deliver care. Yet government has no long-term strategy for securing the workforce of the future. A fully funded workforce plan for the NHS is urgently needed and must be a priority for government.’