A “real sprint” will be needed before winter to protect the NHS from the combined threats of seasonal flu, Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis, the health secretary has said.
Steve Barclay has warned that hospitals face “very serious challenges” ahead of an expected influx of patients and that the healthcare system cannot afford the government to drag its feet on the issue.
Mr Barclay told the Telegraph: ‘We have very real challenges ahead in the autumn and winter, and as far as I’m concerned there needs to be a real sprint within Whitehall, and particularly within the Department of Health , to get ready for September.
“Part of my role is to prepare for reasonable worst-case scenarios. Of course, these pressures can take different forms. You might catch a bad flu, Covid rates might be higher than we expected or liked.
“There is an urgent need to prepare now, especially in areas with long lead times. Decisions need to be made now, not wait until the fall – at which point those deadlines would put resolution at too late a stage.
His comments come amid renewed concerns over a staffing crisis in the NHS, with an analysis of workforce figures revealing the health service could become too dependent on recruits from overseas.
Figures from NHS Digital show the share of healthcare staff recruited from overseas nearly doubled between 2014 and 2021, according to BBC analysis.
According to the broadcaster, 34% of doctors joining the health service in 2021 were from abroad, up from 18% in 2014.
The BBC also found that the share of UK doctors joining the health service fell from 69% in 2015 to 58% last year, while the share of new UK nurses fell from 74% to 61% over the last year. the same period.
Meanwhile, the share of doctors recruited from outside the UK and EU has risen from 18% to 34% and the share of nurses has risen from 7% to 34%.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, called for “urgent action” from the government to tackle “longer-term chronic staff shortages”.
He said: “While there is also a focus on growing and retaining the national workforce, we cannot escape the fact that there are 105,000 vacancies in the NHS and 165,000 vacancies in social care.
“We need urgent action and the new Prime Minister must commit to publishing a fully costed and funded workforce plan to address chronic staff shortages over the longer term.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘We are continuing to develop the NHS workforce which delivers the quantity and quality of healthcare promised by the government. There are over 4,300 more doctors and 10,200 more nurses working in the NHS than last year, and we are on track to provide 50,000 more nurses by 2024.
“We are strengthening our local recruitment, including opening five new medical schools and offering a 25% increase in funding for medical school places over three years to 2020, with the first graduates of this cohort entering medical school training. basis this year.
“Foreign-trained staff have been part of the NHS since its inception and continue to play a vital role in helping us tackle the Covid backlog. We recently signed bilateral agreements with countries such as India, the Philippines, Kenya, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to support the recruitment and training of nurses.