NHS could face 'epidemic of empty wards' if £5.9bn Budget boost doesn't get more staff

Rishi Sunak announced a cash injection for the NHS in his 2021 Autumn Budget – but Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper warned it would be meaningless without a serious plan to recruit more staff

Chancellor Rishi Sunak during a visit to Leeds General Infirmary

Newly announced funding for NHS facilities and tests could be “wasted” unless staff retention and recruitment improves, MPs have warned.

The Government has announced an additional £5.9 billion package of funding to help tackle NHS backlogs across England, with the capital spending aiming to deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

But in an urgent question in the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper warned England “could face an epidemic of empty wards” without a serious plan to recruit NHS staff.

She told the Commons: “No details on where the money will come from, no details on what this means for the almost six million people still waiting for treatment and no details on what this means for our exhausted NHS staff.

“The minister has reportedly said that this money is new, well is it?

“How do we scrutinise that claim?”

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More money is being ploughed into the NHS – but what about the staff?



She added: “Without the trained medical staff to use these new facilities, this plan is doomed to fail.

“Without a serious plan to recruit the NHS staff that we desperately need, England could face an epidemic of empty wards.

“Shiny new scanners and superfast broadband laid to waste because the staff who make our NHS what it is simply aren’t there anymore.”

Labour former minister Chris Bryant also warned: “If you don’t have the people this is all a waste of money.”

He added: “There won’t be enough staff working there because we’re not even training enough people this year to backfill the number of people who are leaving all of these professions this year.

“So, it’s going to get worse, not better.”

Health minister Edward Argar said staffing is “right to highlight the need for continued investment in our workforce”.

But the minister declined to provide more details on how the announcement would be paid for.

He later told the Commons: “We have seen significant increases in the number of doctors and the number of nurses.”

And he mentioned the new levy for health and social care which is estimated to raise £12 billion a year, saying “a significant part of which will be going to support the workforce in the delivery of elective recovery”.

Addressing concerns raised over staffing in specific specialisms, he said: “Since 2010 we have increased the clinical radiology workforce by 48% and diagnostic radiographers by 33%.”

And he acknowledged there is a “long lead time” for training medical staff.

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Mr Argar told MPs the waiting list was “5.7 million and growing”.

He said: “I would have rather thought she’d (Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper) welcome this investment, this new money, which is helping to tackle those waiting lists, of which of those 5.7 million, around 1.36 million, I think, I may be slightly out, are people waiting for diagnostics tests.”

On the new funding, he said: “It is an historic package of investment that will support our aim of delivering around 30% more elective activity by 2024 to 25 compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Chris Grayling criticised those within the health service demanding more Covid restrictions and “demanding more lockdowns”.

“We’ve got to live with this virus,” he said.

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