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MPs Seek 'Blockbuster' Pledges on NHS Workforce Shortfall

Sajid Javid reportedly told Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday that the NHS was like a Blockbuster video store in the age of Netflix.

Comparing the health service with a defunct high street film rental shop deserved a few passing remarks at yesterday's Commons Health and Social Care Committee meeting, but MPs were primarily focused on how England's Health Secretary planned to solve the NHS workforce shortfall.

They wanted to see a plan and they were eager to hear some numbers.

Gamekeeper-turned-poacher Jeremy Hunt wanted to know when the update to the long-term strategic framework for the health workforce, crunched by Health Education England, might finally surface.  "You said that 'Framework 15' would come out in the spring – we're now in June," tutted the Committee chair, who once wore Mr Javid's shoes at the Department of Health.

The work had involved over a thousand conversations and meetings, we learned. It was "important to take the time to get the work right", insisted the current incumbent. Expecting a follow-up question would inevitably involve naming a date, he said it was "at its absolute final stages", finally promising, not unlike a trailer for a Blockbuster video, publication "within the coming weeks".

Sajid Javid Pressed on Recruitment Numbers

Mr Hunt returned to his list of previous promises made by Sajid Javid to his Committee. "Now you also said in November that we will set out the extra doctors and nurses we need in terms of actual numbers," he said ominously. "Will we get that?" he inquired.

"No, not quite," said the Secretary of State. "What you're getting in Framework 15 is not numbers," he proffered. Hurrying on to dispel disappointment, he explained the yet-to-be published document would be "looking at the drivers of the workforce". That meant "skills that are needed", as well as "values", "behaviours", and "changes in patterns of care".

Mr Hunt said he understood the importance of knowing these factors, but suggested that what "doctors on the ground" wanted to know was whether the Government and the NHS had identified which healthcare skills were in short supply and set a target for recruitment. "So, will the Government be publishing a document that says, specialty by specialty, this is the number of doctors we are short, this is the number of doctors we think we're going to need in 15 years' time, and this is what we're going to do to fill the gap?" he asked.

Mr Javid explained that the outcome of Framework 15 would feed into a "refresh of the NHS Long-term Plan", which would form the basis for a 15-year workforce strategy. "What I've asked the NHS to do is to complete that strategy by the end of this year."

Mr Hunt: "By the end of this year, you think you will know those hard numbers?"

Mr Javid: "Yes, that's what I've asked for."

GP Recruitment

The Committee chair had not exhausted his 'previous promises' list. This time it was the shortfall of GPs in England. "In November, you told us that you didn't think we're on track to get an extra 6000 GPs by 2024, which is the new target. What have you done since then to help get us on track in terms of getting more GPs into the system?” he asked.

The Secretary of State had come prepared with some figures. Comparing March this year with the same month in 2019, "the headcount of doctors in general practice has increased by 2389", he said. "The total full time equivalent of that is 1672."

But MPs on the Committee were not in for a 'blockbuster' announcement on GP recruitment, because the 6000 target "is still going to be incredibly tough", the Secretary of State admitted. "I think it's fair to say we're doing all that we can," he added, optimistically.

Finally, Mr Hunt could not resist: "It's been reported by you that you told the Cabinet that the NHS is like a Blockbuster video store in the age of Netflix. What did you mean by that?”

Despite the NHS being "absolutely fantastic", modernisation of the healthcare system was needed because "much of how it's set up is still very much 1948", Mr Javid replied.

"I don't know whether you were a member of Blockbuster, but at some point you must have given that up and taken up Netflix," he said.

Blockbuster stores closed in 2013 after the UK subsidiary went into administration in the face of new trends in consumer demand.

Tuesday's session marked the end of evidence gathering for the Committee's examination of recruitment, training and retention in health and social care.

Lead Image Credit: Richard Townshend/NHS