The Government needs a fully costed and funded long term NHS workforce plan if it is to recover from the pandemic as there is a real risk that exhausted NHS staff may leave their roles unless expectations of their workload mean they are allowed time to recover.

The recommendation was part of a report by the NHS Confederation, Putting people first: supporting NHS staff in the aftermath of COVID-19, which warns that the Government must act now to avert a staffing crisis in the NHS as the country prepares to emerge from a year of restrictions.

Results from the biggest survey of NHS staff, published earlier this month, show that almost two thirds of NHS staff believe there are not enough people in their organisations to enable them to do their job properly. More than four in ten say they feel unwell as result of their job, a figure that rises to half of all staff working in frontline Covid care.

The NHS Confederation is warning the Government that the NHS cannot bounce back from a year-long Covid crisis into full recovery mode unless NHS leaders are given the tools and resources they need to locally support and nurture the health service’s most valuable resource -its people.

Targeted support for staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds

This will need to include targeted support for staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds on whom the pandemic has taken its greatest toll. The government must also give teams in the NHS hope that there is a longer-term plan which will fill the vacancies in their organisations.

Finally, the Government must level with the public about the scale of the challenge ahead when it comes to tackling lengthening waiting lists and responding to the expected surge in mental health support that is widely anticipated.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The people who work in the NHS are at its heart, and we must acknowledge that they have experienced a year like no other. We know that many staff will have been traumatised by what they have seen and experienced in recent months.

“There will be a temptation – not least amongst the teams themselves - to dive straight into tackling the waiting list for care that has ballooned to 4.6 million. But NHS leaders are clear that the NHS cannot bounce back without first giving NHS staff the time, space and support they need to properly recover. If we don’t look after them, then we cannot hope to look after patients.

“If we are going to get the NHS back on track, then we have to put the wellbeing of staff at the centre of our recovery plans and give them everything they need to get themselves back on track. This must be underpinned by urgent investment to address long-standing vacancies in nursing and other key professions - this is at the root of the long-term workload pressures facing the NHS and its people."

Commenting on the report's findings, Dr Sarah Clarke, Royal College of Physicians clinical vice president, added: "The past 12 months have been some of the hardest many of us have ever faced in our careers. Scheduled time off when the worst of the pandemic is over will give staff the strength to face the next challenge of tackling the immense backlog of non-COVID-19 care and may stop the NHS losing staff at this critical time.

“It is vital, however, to accept that we need to grow the NHS workforce, including by increasing medical school places so we have enough doctors for the future. We mustn’t forget we went into the pandemic already carrying too many vacancies."