The Guardian is to be congratulated on its sustained reporting of the NHS’s crippling staff crisis, including the feature on nurses with much-needed skills coming to this country to bail out the health service (13 July). Also worthy of note was the article about the long hours imposed on staff (Doctors forced to work overnight shifts at last minute in NHS staffing crisis, 11 July), which reported the Department of Health and Social Care’s Marie Antoinette stance: “Local providers are responsible for ensuring they have the right staff in place. We have increased medical school places by 25%…”
The problem is that the UK is training less than half the doctors it needs. Candidates to be the next prime minister need to give the highest priority to urgently doubling the number of medical student training places. Since it takes six years to produce a doctor, each year that passes without remedial action is an avoidable disaster that further aggravates the UK’s lack of health security.
Unfortunately, neither in your feature on the overseas nurses helping to keep the NHS running nor elsewhere in the paper was there any recognition of the unethical way in which NHS recruitment from low- and middle-income countries is weakening their health systems. This is aggravating their mortality and morbidity, in flagrant breach of the WHO code on international recruitment of health workers to which we have subscribed.
Prof Rachel Jenkins
Former director, WHO Collaborating Centre, King’s College London
With electioneering for the leader of the Conservative party in full flow, we have heard few, if any, promises to commit to sustaining the NHS, and to funding its regeneration in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The poor health of the NHS and its staff has remained almost completely invisible, bar a few individual accounts, as has the toll of having kept going throughout the pandemic up to now. This is increasingly critical as more experienced staff express serious doubts about being able to continue to work in their underfunded and undervalued NHS.
As systemic psychotherapists, we offer support to two groups of NHS staff in different parts of the country who, among other responsibilities, provide support to their beleaguered, overworked, disillusioned and undervalued colleagues. They have repeatedly witnessed the government’s lack of care for the NHS and its lack of vision for restoring and sustaining services.
To make matters worse, NHS staff are now being blamed by the government, and by frustrated patients, for the shortcomings of services that have been on life support since before the pandemic. While Covid-19 has more clearly highlighted the strains throughout the NHS, these problems were not created within the past two years. There is a much longer history of underresourcing of NHS services and underinvesting in training, retention and support of essential staff.
One of the unexpected developments from this pandemic period is that, finally, some discussion is happening in NHS trusts around the country about how health service staff need dedicated support and care themselves, if they are to continue to provide good quality healthcare to the country. This late but crucial recognition of staff support needs must be factored into the future funding of NHS services.