NHS Digital’s figures showed that 87,478 vacancies were advertised between January and March this year.
Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
The government announced a new funding deal for the NHS in June, worth up to £20bn a year. Eight years of austerity has certainly taken its toll on the NHS. Over 4 million people are currently waiting for operations. A & E performance against modern targets is at its worst ever – and the prime minister has insisted that the NHS needs to recover these targets.
High on the list of priorities following the 3.4% annual funding increase is for the NHS to deliver improvements in cancer outcomes – at present these are below the average in Europe for some of the most common cancers – and mental health provision.
NHS England CEO, Simon Stevens told Sky News, “If we can focus particularly on early (cancer) diagnosis, getting checked out soon, we are going to have an impact on cancer survival.” Stevens believes that early diagnosis needs to be the cancer focus over the next decade.
Scepticism abounds about what the NHS can realistically achieve with the extra funding. Hospital chiefs, think tanks and economists have all expressed concerns. However, Simon Stevens is adamant that the NHS can deliver improvements to outcomes, with one caveat – staffing.
Staffing seen as central to NHS improvement
Staffing issues will need to be addressed if the NHS is to reduce waiting times for A&E care and planned surgery. It will also be vitally important if cancer care outcomes are to be improved, along with mental health services.
The NHS will need to recruit thousands of new doctors and nurses if it is to deliver on its ambition of improving cancer care and mental health provision.
Five new medical schools have come on line. However, it takes up to 12 years to train a doctor, and it will obviously take time before this addresses the staffing shortfall.
Simon Stevens also believes that more should be done to protect the NHS’ existing staff, calling for automatic prosecutions and harsher sentences for anybody who attacks member of NHS staff.
However, with the best part of 100,000 vacancies for doctors and nurses currently available, it is understandable that questions are asked about the NHS’ ability to meet waiting time targets, let alone deliver on challenging and ambitious improvements in outcomes.
So, whilst there are plenty of people willing to share their reservations about how realistic the NHS’ aims are for the future, Simon Stevens remains confident and buoyant about what the next decade has in store for the NHS. He appreciates that the way the public and the NHS interacts will inevitably change, and the range of services available will evolve and expand. However, he is of the belief that the NHS will endure due to the principle of the country’s taxpayers continuing to fund the service and it remaining free at the point of need.
Time will tell whether Stevens is right to remain optimistic and whether the 3.4% funding increase will be enough to help the NHS bring about the improvement targets for cancer care and mental health provision.
Source: The Guardian