Nuffield Trust: Government must be realistic about impact of health and care staffing shortages on pace of NHS recovery

Helen Buckingham responds to the Health and Social Care Committee report on clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic.

Press release

Published: 06/01/2022

Responding to the Health and Social Care Committee report Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic, Nuffield Trust Director of Strategy Helen Buckingham said:

“MPs are right to have serious concerns about the knock-on effects of staff shortages on the NHS's ability to deliver high quality care and to reduce waiting lists.

“While we have seen an increase in NHS staff numbers, including over 23,000 additional nurses over the last two years, there continue to be severe shortages across the health and care system.

“The government has admitted it is not on track to meet its GP recruitment ambitions with staffing levels actually falling in the last two years, and the fragile social care sector has seen at least 42,000 staff members leave their posts in the six months to October last year. Restricted access to services in the community both drives up the number of patients seeking care via emergency and A&E services, and makes it harder for hospitals to discharge patients who need ongoing care, thus piling additional pressure on hospitals.

“While the Omicron wave has rapidly increased shortages in hospitals and elsewhere in the here and now, we know that the demands on health and care staff were growing steadily long before the pandemic. Growing waiting times have been a sign of a failure to properly grasp and fund long-term plans to address gaps in rotas. 

“Growing numbers of Covid patients, on top of near pre-pandemic levels of emergency care need and ongoing efforts to tackle the record 6m and growing patients waiting for treatment, mean NHS staff are under pressure from all sides. The government must be realistic about the pace at which the health service can rebound with the staffing it has.”

Notes to editors

About Nuffield Trust

  1. The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.
  2. For all queries or to arrange an interview, contact: Simon Keen: 07780 475571 /; or Meesha Patel: 07920 043676 /