We need to talk about the healthcare workforce

As a nation, we have spent the last month endlessly talking about PPE, testing and even ventilators, remorselessly picking over the technical details of things which most people still do not understand. The government is pleased for us to do this because it keeps us off the one topic they have no answer for; the elephant in the room of a totally inadequate healthcare workforce stretched to breaking point. Even with all the goodwill in the world, re-calling retired doctors and nurses doesn’t solve it.
There are many good reasons why the NHS is supposed to run at 85% of capacity; one is so that there is then some slack in the system for unforeseen emergencies. That has not happened in the last few years as successive Conservative governments have squeezed the service harder and harder driving capacity dangerously close to 95% and beyond, not addressed staffing shortages at all levels and reduced the bed numbers by too much (by at least 7,000) Eventually acknowledged by Jeremy Hunt himself towards the end of his 7+year tenure as Secretary of state for Health and Social Care.

The summer ‘respite’ for the health service didn’t happen last year or the year before, or the year before that, and the workforce has remained thousands short across the board; GPs, hospital specialists and trainees, nurses and care workers, result; an exhausted workforce close to burn-out. Add to this the wanton neglect of an able and willing EU workforce over 100,000 which was pushed out by a hostile environment as Brexit became a reality at the end of 2019 and here we are reaping the whirlwind.

We are a political party, and opposition parties have to hold the government to account for its political choices, in my view, a national emergency does not change that, and I don’t hear anyone doing this. Kier Starmer said at the weekend he broadly supported the government but would shine a torch on its shortcomings.

This week it has become obvious that the social care workforce has been totally neglected in all the razzamatazz as the govt tried to catch up and limit headlines to the so-called ‘frontline’ of the NHS furthermore that likely COVID deaths in care homes and the community are not even being counted -extraordinary.

We Liberal Democrats have many policies in support of the Health and Social Care workforce, and we need to be shouting about these, now. The workforce is on its knees with 25% off sick or in isolation on any one day and people being asked to commit to 12hour shifts, six days a week in areas outside their expertise. It’s this which will turn out to be the limiting factor in how many lives can be saved; there are simply not enough people to cover the workload

* Catherine Royce is a medical doctor and was previously PPC for Uxbridge (2001) and Romsey (2017). She is on the Liberal Democrat Women executive and currently a member of the Federal Policy Committee.

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  • Steve Trevethan 8th Apr '20 - 9:10am

    Thank you for an excellent and much needed article!
    Do we need to include spare/insurance capacity in all our socio-economic thinking and attitudes?
    Might the needs of an efficient health service be different from those of motor vehicle construction?
    Are there limits to the real and theorised benefits of J I T approaches? ( Just In Time)

  • Roger Roberts 8th Apr '20 - 9:22am

    Why are 500 qualifiede medics being denied the opportunity to use their skillss to tackle this virus ? I enclose this letter

    Dear Lord Roberts of Llandudno,
    My name is Dr Hiba Suliman Mohamed Mustafa Alzamzamy, a consultant ophthalmologist and founder of the group medical professionals seeking registration in the UK. This is a group of 500 british, migrant and refugee international medical graduates who are in the process of acquiring their registartion with the general medical council (GMC) and are all living inside the UK but are obstructed from working within the NHS due to the english language proficiency reqirements from the GMC as well as many further factors that come into play during this rigorous process.

    Please note that I have attached the letter I have sent to the GMC after having discussed our position in the current COVID-19 pandemic with my group requesting temporary registration to be granted to doctors like us to provide instantaneous aid in this national crisis, however no reply has been reply has been recieved as to date.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Dr Hiba Mohamed Mustafa

    From: Hiba Azamzamy

  • Simon McGrath 8th Apr '20 - 9:22am

    Its perhaps worth looking at the reality rather than the rhetoric. When the Coalition came to power in May 2010 it had a FTE NHS England workforce of professional qualified clinical staff of 532,508. At the end of the Coalition at had 548,165 and now has 598,232. Should there be more – certainly – but neither when we were in Govt nor when the Tories ruled on their own have their been reductions https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/nhs-workforce-statistics/december-2019

  • Richard Underhill 8th Apr '20 - 9:37am

    When devolution to Wales happened in health the first minister Rhodri Morgan (Labour) said that they would train doctors for the health service, but it would take about seven years.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Apr '20 - 9:41am

    @Simon McGrath
    That sounds like a typical tory government statement of the form “We’ve put £x million into whatever the service is…”. It takes no account of what might actually be needed!

  • Wuhan has come out of lock down after 11 weeks. How will our NHS and Social Care Staff feel when week 11 is reached? An issue for now, not time for arguing about the past.

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Apr '20 - 10:09am

    Might our health workers, carers etc. be “Lions Led by Donkeys”?
    Might pointing out errors, omissions, and the like, be wiser and more patriotic than going along with attempts to explain away obvious deficiencies of attitude, equipment etc?
    Deficiencies of attitude?

  • Julie Taylor 8th Apr '20 - 10:48am

    It is easier to criticise than create. Note the mistakes of the past and learn from them. Please use your skills to help families currently coping with the sick. Very ill but still able to force down sips of water. Still able to breath but weak and uncomfortable.
    Reintroduce the traditional soothing treatment of a ‘Bed Bath’ . It is cost free. Greatly helps the patient and is proactive for the family. I’ve outlined the process in a poem I have already sent libdemvoice.
    Participation aids all. Julie Taylor

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Apr '20 - 8:11pm

    Did the Government and N H S have four years in which to prepare for this pandemic and so protect its brave people?
    Exercise Cygnus [10/16] showed that a pandemic would collapse the N H S from a lack of resources.
    Why do the full results of the exercise remain hidden and classified?
    What is our Party doing about this lack of information?

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