RCP president Dr Sarah Clarke this week drew attention to the pressing issues facing the NHS workforce at the 2023 Labour party conference.
Speaking on a panel discussing ‘The NHS workforce of the future’, Dr Clarke emphasised the RCP’s long-standing calls to the tackle the detrimental impact of understaffing on patients and the overwhelming demands faced by doctors.
She highlighted the RCP’s recent census findings which lay bare the demands placed on the NHS workforce and the pressing need for expansion, revealing that a staggering 58% of consultant physicians said that they had consultant vacancies in their departments. The same census reveals that more than 70% of respondents said gaps in rotas were having an impact on patient care, and worryingly almost one in five doctors say they almost never feel in control of their workload.
Principally, Dr Clarke advocated for the NHS workforce of the future to be one where we have enough doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff to provide the care people need and one where morale is improved.
This summer, following repeated calls from the RCP and fellow health leaders, the government announced the first ever long-term workforce plan (LTWP) which included a doubling of medical school places along with a commitment to independently verified staffing projections. In her talk, Dr Clarke welcomed the expansion of medical school places and made clear that those places must come with a commensurate increase in the number of training places, underpinned by funding all the way to completion of training. She spoke about the need for comprehensive data before the projections in the LTWP are due to be revised in order to map out the specialist training places that are needed now, as well as in the future.
She also stressed that although the LTWP was encouraging, there is still much more to do. Retention of the staff we have now, she said, was absolutely crucial to ensuring the health service was able to meet demand now and in the future. The NHS needs to become a more positive environment where healthcare professionals are respected, listened to, feel valued and provided with the opportunities and infrastructure, such as well functioning IT, to succeed. Her approach recommended providing better support for significant life events, flexible working, and the provision of necessary amenities such as readily available food and drink and staff spaces.
Beyond staffing concerns, Dr Clarke also underscored the need to address health inequalities and adapt to the demands of an ageing population. The shifting demographics of the UK population necessitate healthcare services that can cater to the unique and often complex needs of older patients, ensuring equitable access to healthcare. The RCP convenes the Inequalities in Health Alliance – a coalition of more than 240 organisation calling for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities which will take action on the social determinants that lead to ill health.