Health Committee Press Notice No 16

22 March 2007
Session 2006-07

Workforce Planning - BOOM AND BUST IN THE NHS

The Government's handling of workforce planning in the NHS is condemned today as a 'disastrous failure' by the House of Commons Health Select Committee.

A lack of strategic planning by the Department of Health meant that trusts recruited far more staff than they could afford to pay.

Figures reveal that between 1999 and 2004, nursing numbers increased by more than 67,000 - some 340% in excess of original targets. During the same time, GP numbers swelled by 4,098 - 105% over target.

"It was too easy to throw new staff into the task of meeting targets rather than consider the most cost-effective way of doing the job" the report concludes.

The Committee criticise the lack of integration between financial and workforce planning. "The expansion of the workforce was reckless and uncontrolled and increases in funding were often seen as a blank cheque for recruiting new staff" the report says.

The Committee calls on the Government to increase productivity through better use of staff contracts, particularly the new consultant contract and Agenda for Change.

"Large pay increases were granted without adequate steps being taken to ensure increases in productivity in return."

MPs conclude that there is clear evidence that the NHS has gone from "boom to bust", with staff being hit by "widespread job reductions, sweeping training cuts and severe pay restrictions". The Committee were shocked to find that UK healthcare graduates are facing unemployment, largely because trusts chose to increase capacity through international recruitment.

The Committee concludes that the Government must:

€ Make workforce planning a priority for the health service with greater emphasis given to long term and strategic planning.

€ End the constant reorganisation of workforce planning (such as the establishment and then abolition of Workforce Development Confederations within three years); instead, ensure that the organisations responsible for planning do their jobs properly.

€ Dramatically improve the integration of workforce, financial and service planning. More integrated planning will mean increased involvement for education providers and the independent sector.

€ Improve the productivity of the workforce, particularly through better use of the new staff contracts.

€ Make sure that the 10 new SHAs improve their understanding of workforce demands and take collective responsibility for improving planning at national level.

€ Ensure that as commissioners, PCTs help SHAs to analyse future workforce demand and ensure that service planning and workforce planning become integrated and complementary processes.

€ Shift the balance of the health service workforce towards primary care.

€ Ensure that planning decisions cover the whole workforce rather than looking at each staff group separately.

€ Recruit workforce planners of the highest calibre and ensure that they are supported by staff with appropriate skills.

€ Stop the Department of Health's micromanagement of the planning system - encouraging an oversight capacity to ensure SHAs are giving workforce planning the priority its importance requires.

Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Kevin Barron said:

"Improving workforce planning is crucial if the health service is to respond effectively to future change and provide value for money for taxpayers. As a result, we hope that the Government will act swiftly on the recommendations in this report."

The Health Committee is a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It is appointed under Standing Order No.152 to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Health and associated public bodies. The Committee has the power to send for persons, papers and records.

Please note that the Health Committee is unable to investigate individual cases.