College statement on Treasury comments about NHS workforce numbers in England

The College is concerned by a report in The Times that the Treasury could move to curb NHS plans for more healthcare workers in England. The Treasury reportedly suggested ‘removing all numbers from a blueprint for training doctors and nurses over the next decade’ and are ‘pushing NHS chiefs to include lower estimates of the need for doctors and nurses’.

Professor Andrew Elder, President of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

We are in the midst of a workforce crisis. Any suggestion of curbing the number of NHS workers, at a time when we need many more, is concerning.

In autumn 2022, we joined with over 100 organisations to demand that the workforce strategy for the NHS in England is published in full, including numbers of staff needed to keep pace with demand, alongside a commitment to provide the necessary funding. It is vital that this is delivered – workforce is the biggest challenge facing the NHS.

Furthermore, there is currently no official public data on the number of healthcare staff needed to meet that demand, now or in the future. Without credible up to date numbers, the system cannot plan.

Regular, independent public workforce projection data will not solve the workforce crisis. However, a national assessment of the healthcare staff numbers needed now and in the future will provide the necessary foundations to begin putting the workforce on a sustainable path. This could also support more strategic spending decisions.

It is important to point out that without appropriate workforce numbers, the NHS will struggle to maintain care outcomes for people. Consultants will have even less time to provide training, trainees will have fewer learning hours, and many could be put off medicine altogether. Medicine is an incredibly rewarding career but only if the workload is manageable, staff are valued and non-clinical work is protected.