REPRESENTATIVES AT THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (BMA) Annual Representative Meeting in Brighton have backed motions calling for the UK Government to urgently put in place an NHS workforce plan in order to tackle the record backlog in care.

Responding, Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said: “Even before the pandemic the length of time people were waiting for the care they needed was too high. But following the huge disruption and added pressure Covid-19 placed on the UK’s health services, waiting lists have now gone up to a perilous level. We have a record 6.5 million people waiting for treatment in England, as well as the significant ‘hidden backlog’ of people who have still to come forward for care after the worst of the pandemic, or whose referrals were cancelled. For both patients and doctors, these figures are deeply concerning.

“What is most unnerving for doctors – who have spent the last two years working at a pace and under a level of pressure they’ve never experienced before – is that plans to tackle this backlog in care lack any meaningful strategy to boost and support the workforce who will be responsible for it.

“Targets to reduce waits and delays are all well and good, but they are completely futile if there is no plan for more staff and proper resourcing. Exhausted healthcare workers, operating at their absolute limits, cannot be expected to take on even more. After the most harrowing two years of their careers, staff are now staring headlong at a further tsunami of work with no backup. The cavalry is not on the way.

“And we cannot continue pouring money into expensive contracts with the private sector – dealing with its own Covid-related backlog – to do NHS work, when this would be better spent boosting capacity in the health service itself, something the Health Secretary seems to be ruling out.

“As a bare minimum the UK Government should know how many doctors, nurses and other health and care staff we need to meet this huge demand. And yet, they have ignored calls from ourselves and more than 100 other expert organisations to include the need for independent, long-term workforce projections and assessments in law – thereby perpetuating a lack of accountability for safely staffing our healthcare services.

“Without knowing how many staff are needed to safely deliver services, now and into the longer term, how on earth can the Government, education and training providers and healthcare leaders plan ahead for the care that patients need?

“The Secretary of State continues to talk about an NHS workforce plan, but we need this now, published in full and with actions and the funding necessary to make a difference to staff and patients.

“We continue to lose doctors to burnout, punitive pension taxation rules and bureaucratic barriers for colleagues from overseas – all areas the Government can tackle now. If they fail to do so patients will continue to suffer and the impact on the health of the nation will be devastating.”

* Source: British Medical Association