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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 08:43 GMT
Shortage of NHS staff predicted
Nurse
Job cuts are proposed at NHS trusts across England
There will be a shortage of GPs and nurses in four years' time, but the NHS will have to shed hospital doctors, leaked government documents show.

The prediction of a shortfall of 14,000 nurses was included in the Department of Health paper, it was reported.

The strategy has been labelled a "yo-yo attitude" to planning. The leak comes amid news of extensive job cuts as the NHS tries to save money.

But the government said it was a "prudent and sensible" analysis.

The document, part of the draft version of the NHS pay and workforce strategy for 2008 to 2011 in England, were reported in the Health Service Journal.

It predicted there will be volatility in the immediate future with as much as a reduction of 2.7% - nearly 37,000 jobs - in the workforce this year alone.

But it said by 2011 the health service will experience a shortage of 1,200 GPs, 14,000 nurses and 1,100 junior and staff-grade doctors by 2011.

It demonstrates a yo-yo attitude to workforce planning and a complete absence of joined up thinking from the government
Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing

There will also be 3,200 extra consultants that the NHS cannot afford to pay, as well as 16,000 other health professionals such as physios, health scientists and technicians.

The draft strategy, discussed by Department of Health officials in December, sets out a series of controversial measures to remedy the situation.

It said nurse pay could be dictated by local market rates, and that unemployment could be used to "create downward pressure on wages".

Temporary staff

The document also suggested a new grade of sub-consultant be created to save money, although this would be "bitterly opposed" by unions.

It also suggested the increased use of temporary staff and short-term contracts.

The shortage of nurses has been put down to cuts made to training budgets as a result of the NHS's financial problems.

Meanwhile, excess consultant numbers can be explained by the movement of care away from hospitals and into the community.

The effect on morale will be dire
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) consultants' committee, said cutting consultant posts was "absurd".

"To describe this as a responsible piece of planning, I think is incorrect, because to be responsible they should be involving those who are directly involved in the service - i.e. consultants in particular - in planning the numbers they require."

Prediction difficulties

Janet Davies, director at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "It demonstrates a yo-yo attitude to workforce planning and a complete absence of joined up thinking from the government.

"Quite simply, if the reality of this document matches the leaks, then this is a bad news day for patients and for nurses."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the 2.7% cut this year equated to nearly 37,000 posts, adding: "The effect on morale will be dire."

The truth is that workforce planning within the healthcare system is a bit like landing a jumbo jet on a pin
Niall Dickson, King's Fund

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb added: "It is absurd that newly qualified doctors and nurses are faced with less new jobs due to deficits at the same time as the government is predicting a shortage of nurses and GPs."

But a Department of Health spokesman said it was about "stabilising" staff numbers.

He added: "It is therefore only prudent and sensible to analyse what the workforce make-up should be to meet those challenges.

"To portray a responsible piece of planning as another 'crisis for the NHS story' is alarmist mischief-making on a grand scale."

And Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, said: "Workforce planning within the healthcare system is a bit like landing a jumbo jet on a pin.

"They are not saying this will happen, they are saying this will happen if we do nothing and they are trying to predict what sort of staff they will need against pretty rapid technology changes [and] relationships between professions are changing."


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