RCoA Welcomes Health and Care Bill with Cautious Optimism

Without workforce planning the reforms may have little impact on patient care

Ahead of the second reading of the Health and Care Bill, Professor Ravi Mahajan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said:

“The Royal College of Anaesthetists welcomes the Health and Care Bill with cautious optimism. The introduction of integrated care systems signals a shift in focus towards collaboration over competition, joined up working over legislative barriers, and prevention over cure. If the promises laid out in the Bill are delivered, we remain hopeful that the reforms could help facilitate better, safer, and more efficient care.

“We must however maintain a measured approach. These are the first fundamental health service reforms in nearly a decade and introducing them whilst emerging from arguably the biggest crisis the NHS has ever faced is a monumental task. Going full steam ahead could cause the health service to lose its core focus: patients. The government must work with clinicians to set out a realistic timetable for implementation that takes into account NHS system capacity as well as the recovery needs of staff.

“The Health and Care Bill offers an unprecedented opportunity to look at how decisions around workforce planning are made. We hope to see a detailed commitment to the commissioning and sharing of workforce projections, and information on how the Government will respond and be accountable for these. Workforce planning requires a long-term, systematic approach that considers demographic changes, population needs and developments in healthcare delivery over the coming decades. It takes years to train nurses and doctors, and we cannot continue to allow workforce shortages to reach such critical levels, while continuing to expect an already stretched NHS to deliver more with less. Ultimately, a sustainable NHS requires the right staff in the right place at the right time. Anything less could be disastrous for patients and the NHS.

“The NHS also has an important duty of care to ensure that while it works to reduce the surgical backlog, safe staffing levels across its hospitals are upheld. This protects staff against burnout and ensures that the high standards of care for which the NHS is world-renowned are not lost.

“The Bill is a step in the right direction, but it could be a real opportunity to build back a stronger NHS in the aftermath of COVID-19. If the government and other stakeholders continue to ignore the key drivers of safe, efficient care, such as adequate staffing numbers and clinician input into the design of services, any reforms are likely to have little impact on patients.”

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