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Will a shortage of doctors and nurses wreck the government’s plan for a seven day NHS?

It has been well-publicised in the news that the current Conservative government is pressing ahead on plans to implement a seven day NHS by 2020. The Department of Health (DoH) points to eight independent studies in the last six years which show “unacceptable variations in care across the week”, dubbed the “weekend effect”[1].

The DoH intends to tackle this by providing the NHS with £10bn extra funding alongside thousands of extra doctors and nurses on the wards. 

However, confidential papers presented to DoH and Jeremy Hunt in July 2016 identified 13 risks which the government will face in their bid for a seven day NHS[2]. The document warns that that the health service has too few staff and too little money to deliver the plan on time and patients may not notice any difference even if it happens.

The biggest danger is workforce overload – a lack of available GPs, hospital consultants and other health professionals “meaning the full service cannot be delivered”.

The paper also airs concerns that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union “may advsersing (sic) impact upon the delivery of the 7 Day Services programme, particularly with regards to workforce and finances, because the NHS employs 55,000 staff from around the EU.”

The problem of adding the necessary staff levels to achieve the plan appears to be quite an issue. Earlier in 2016 it was reported that the number of young medics becoming specialists has dropped by 8% in three years[3].

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “These figures are very bad for the NHS because we are in danger of losing an unknown proportion of young doctors who could be going into higher medical training and taking up roles in the NHS.”

To add further pressure on the amount of skilled staff within the NHS, a recent poll has suggested that more than half of NHS doctors are considering leaving the NHS and switching to private healthcare[4]. The poll further states that 78% of doctors are worried about the future of the profession, with concerns that future generations will be put off starting a career in medicine due to reduced financial incentives and the increasing cost of education.

It is encouraging to see the government committed to increasing funding of the NHS but the key issue appears to be finding a solution to the skills gap that is emerging.

[1] BBC (2016)

[2] The Guardian (2016)

[3] The Guardian (2016)

[4] Health Insurance Daily (2016)

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