Health leaders have signed a joint letter calling on the government to strengthen provisions on workforce planning in the Health and Care Bill ahead of its second reading.

The letter, published in the Times today, sets out how the Health and Care Bill is a vital opportunity to learn from past failures and improve workforce planning. It calls on government to amend the Bill to ensure that in future England has robust, independent projections of the health and social care staff that the country will need.

Despite widespread support from across the health and care sector, provisions for independent workforce projections were not included in the Bill. The letter signatories call the lack of these provisions in the Bill a ‘glaring omission’.

It says that a properly staffed health and care system is central to recovering services after Covid-19 and continuing to deliver the care that patients need and expect.

The letter adds: "It takes time to train professionals working in health and care, from nurses and doctors to pharmacists and carers, and so we must act now to prepare for the challenges we know are coming in future with an ageing population."

Wrong time to be reorganising the NHS

The letter is signed by the chief executives and senior representatives from the Health Foundation, the King’s Fund, NHS Confederation, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, NHS Providers, Nuffield Trust, National Voices, the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing.

In addition to the letter, the BMA council has overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the Health and Care Bill to be rejected, arguing that it is the wrong time to be reorganising the NHS.

As well as failing to address chronic workforce shortages, it says that Bill fails to protect the NHS from further outsourcing and encroachment of large corporate companies in healthcare, and significantly dilutes public accountability. It is also concerned about the wide-ranging excessive powers the Bill would confer on the Health Secretary.

The Association said that despite its title, the Bill does nothing to address the serious failings in social care that needs urgent attention. 

Without significant amendment, the BMA will indicate that it cannot support the Bill. Parliamentary amendments the Association will be calling for include making sure there are genuine and transparent protections against privatisation, embedding clinical leadership throughout Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and ensuring political responsibility for staffing levels. 

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of BMA council, said: “The BMA has consistently called for meaningful clinical leadership, engagement and representation at every level of Integrated Care Systems, including from primary and secondary care as well as public health doctors to ensure the right voices are heard when it comes to commissioning decisions, but this has not been adequately addressed in the legislation. The threat of private health providers having a formal seat on new decision making boards, and wielding influence over commissioning decisions, must be ruled out.

“What should also have been ruled out is extending the powers of the Health Secretary. Of course, the Health Secretary should be accountable for the NHS, but it would be totally wrong for Government to have the power to abolish arm’s length bodies without due scrutiny, approve or reject ICS chairs, or interfere with local decisions – all of which risk political interference for political gain, and do not have the interests of the NHS, or its patients, at heart."