NHS trust leaders warn staff shortages now outweigh fears over funding

The largest ever survey of NHS trust chairs and chief executives has revealed rising concern over the growing NHS “workforce gap”.

Only one in four trust leaders (27%) are confident they have the right staff numbers, quality and skill mix to deliver high quality healthcare for patients and service users. Fewer still (22%) are confident about having the right staffing levels in six months’ time. These findings show that, for many trust leaders, worries over staffing are becoming even greater and more urgent than those over funding.

Only one in four trust leaders are confident they have the right staff numbers, quality and skill mix to deliver high quality healthcare for patients and service users


172 chairs and chief executives from 136 hospital, mental heath, community and ambulance trusts responded to the survey – well over half of all England’s 238 NHS trusts. The survey forms the centrepiece of a comprehensive assessment from NHS Providers of the challenges trusts face and how they are responding, including successes which give grounds for optimism but are rarely celebrated.

The state of the NHS provider sector gives examples of where trusts are improving the quality of care and increasing productivity – despite having to work at full stretch due to severe financial constraints and rapidly growing demand.

The report demonstrates that, despite rising challenges, trusts deliver when they have an achievable task and are given appropriate support and funding, including:

However, the survey also reveals a range of growing concerns over how services for patients and service users can be sustained at current levels:

NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said:

“NHS trusts tell us they are facing the biggest challenge in a generation.

“Thanks to hard work at the frontline a huge amount is being delivered. Record numbers of patients are being treated. All three key financial priorities are on track - financial deficits are being cut; cost improvement gains are increasing; and spending on agency staff is being reduced. At the same time, trusts are leading the much needed transformation of the NHS. When the task is reasonable and support and funding are forthcoming, trusts will deliver.

We need greater honesty and realism about what can be delivered for the funding and staff capacity that is available


“But we need to listen carefully to frontline leaders when they say that the NHS is now running a much higher level of risk.

“Demand is rising much faster than anyone predicted. Trusts are having to cope with the fallout from a social care system that has reached a tipping point and parts of general practice that are rapidly becoming overwhelmed. We are in the middle of the longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history with four years of much lower funding increases on the horizon and no plan on how to cope with them. We also have a series of workforce challenges we are struggling to meet.

“We need greater honesty and realism about what can be delivered for the funding and staff capacity that is available. We need a smaller set of key priorities, more support for staff, and a better relationship between trusts, the government and its arms length bodies to develop solutions to these challenges. We need to recognise that complex transformation will take time when set alongside an increasingly stretching task to deliver high quality patient care day to day.

“Above all, we need a clear plan on how to close the gap between what the NHS is being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

 

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