The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently published its report into staffing problems in the NHS. According to the BBC, the cross-party committee was "scathing" of the quality of the leadership provided by the Department of Health and national bodies such as NHS Improvement and Health Education England.
According to the report, in recent years the Department of Health "and its arm's-length bodies have provided ineffective leadership and support, giving trusts conflicting messages about how to balance safe staffing with the need to make efficiency savings".
NHS trusts and foundation trusts have been told to focus on bringing down staff costs to meet efficiency targets. This has resulted in the number of staff needed being "consistently" understated. The report says that this "undersupply… inhibits trusts' ability to provide services efficiently and effectively…". It also warns that this could result "in longer waiting times for treatment and shortcomings in the quality of care".
Following the enquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the need to comply with safe staffing guidelines, NHS trusts and foundation trusts were also told to ensure that they had sufficient staff. There was then an increase in spending on costly agency staff.
The report is clear that, although NHS leaders have blamed "rip-off" agency fees for increased NHS spending, the high level of spending on agency staff is, in fact, "largely the consequence" of poor planning.
The committee chairman, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said that there were "serious flaws" in the government's approach. "This poor workforce planning means patients face the possibility of longer waiting times and a greater cost to the public purse." The government replied by pointing out that the NHS budget is expected to rise by around £8 billion by 2020.
Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “Many of the clinical negligence cases we investigate are the result of over-stretched staff and overall lack of resources. It is shocking that resources are being wasted simply because of bad planning and ineffective leadership.”