British Medical Association (BMA) representatives have backed a motion calling on the government to urgently put in place an NHS workforce plan in order to tackle the record backlog in care.

At the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Brighton, representatives demanded that the government drops unrealistic targets that put impossible pressures on existing NHS staff.

They also demanded that they take the money that is destined to pay the private sector to do NHS work and invest it in the following: expanding the capacity of the NHS, recruiting and training NHS staff, and retaining the NHS staff that are already there.

Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said: “Even before the pandemic the length of time people were waiting for the care they needed was too high. But following the huge disruption and added pressure Covid-19 placed on the UK’s health services, waiting lists have now gone up to a perilous level. We have a record 6.5 million people waiting for treatment in England, as well as the significant “hidden backlog” of people who have still to come forward for care after the worst of the pandemic, or whose referrals were cancelled.

“For both patients and doctors, these figures are deeply concerning."

The cavalry is not on the way

He added that targets to reduce waits and delays are all well and good, but they are completely futile if there is no plan for more staff and proper resourcing. Exhausted healthcare workers, operating at their absolute limits, cannot be expected to take on even more.

“After the most harrowing two years of their careers, staff are now staring headlong at a further tsunami of work with no backup. The cavalry is not on the way," he said.

“And we cannot continue pouring money into expensive contracts with the private sector – dealing with its own Covid-related backlog – to do NHS work, when this would be better spent boosting capacity in the health service itself, something the Health Secretary seems to be ruling out.

“Without knowing how many staff are needed to safely deliver services, now and into the longer term, how on earth can the Government, education and training providers and healthcare leaders plan ahead for the care that patients need?"