Isabel Hardman

Boris has no answer to the backlog crisis

Boris has no answer to the backlog crisis
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Jeremy Hunt asked an entirely reasonable question of the Prime Minister today in the Commons — and got an entirely unreasonable answer. Hunt raised an amendment he is tabling which would require Health Education England to produce regular forecasts for the numbers of doctors and nurses that the UK needs to train. This is quite a small thing to ask for, but Johnson's response was first to dodge his way around the question, and then to turn the issue into a party political attack on Labour. He said:

My right hon. friend is absolutely right that we have to ensure that our NHS has the staff that it needs. That is why there are 50,000 more healthcare professionals in the NHS this year than there were last year –—12,000 more nurses. In addition there are 60,000 nurses in training. Somebody on the opposition benches asks "why are there waiting lists?" It is because we have been through a pandemic. We are fixing those waiting lists with £36 billion of investment, which the Labour party voted against.'

Johnson has no answer to the question about the staffing of the health service because his government is yet to offer a plan. As I wrote last week, the Budget failed to produce the promised long-term workforce plan, or indeed clarity on the funding for Health Education England. Yesterday, Sajid Javid said there would be a 15-year plan for the NHS and social care workforce and that 'spring is roughly the time for that'. This is a long time to come up with a solution to a problem that existed before the pandemic (and indeed was an issue even back in Hunt's days as health secretary). It's also a long time to put off any shorter-term solutions to the gaps in workforce that are making it more difficult for hospitals to cut the backlog.