HEALTH CARE BILL: Tory rebels fail to push through Jeremy Hunt’s NHS workforce planning proposal
HEALTH CARE BILL: Boris Johnson has suffered another sizeable Tory rebellion over his NHS reforms, as a former health secretary pushed for more medics to be trained.
A total of 18 Conservative MPs backed a Health and Care Bill amendment which sought to introduce better workforce planning for care in England.
The division list showed Jeremy Hunt, the architect of the amendment, was supported in the division lobbies by 17 colleagues – including former cabinet ministers Greg Clark, Esther McVey and Chris Grayling.
But his proposal was ultimately rejected by 280 votes to 219, majority 61.
Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Health Select Committee, had warned of “short-termism” in workforce planning and called for independent assessments to be published every two years setting out staffing needs.
He also argued that training more doctors for the NHS would help reduce the £6 billion annual bill for locums and improve patient care.
After the vote, Mr Hunt vowed to press on with his campaign when the Bill is considered in the House of Lords.
He wrote on Twitter: “(Very) sad the govt did not adopt my workforce amendment today that would have made sure we train enough doctors and nurses for the future. But grateful to my colleagues in Parliament who supported it.
“The Bill can still be amended in the Lords so we’ve lost the battle but not the war.”
Speaking earlier during report stage of the Bill, Mr Hunt said of his proposal: “Every month that we delay putting in place this structure is a month when we are failing to give hope to NHS staff on the front line.”
He added: “The number of doctors, nurses and other professionals we train depends on the priorities of the current secretary of state and chancellor.
“And what we have ended up with as a result is a very haphazard system which means that despite the fact that we spend around the average as a proportion of our GDP on health for western Europe, we have one of the lowest numbers of doctors per head, lower than any European country except for Sweden.”
He said there was a need for greater long-term planning to be “baked into the system” in contrast “to some of the short-termism that we’ve seen even recently”.
Mr Hunt said the “workforce crisis is the biggest concern of the majority of people in the NHS”.
Conservative former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who voted in favour of Mr Hunt’s amendment, argued “pinching doctors from the developing world to make up for the shortfall” was “grossly irresponsible”.
The MP for Sutton Coldfield said: “Burnout in the NHS is an incredibly serious issue, the need for us to project how many we’re going to need in all the different disciplines in the health service has never been greater and the workforce requirements have never been more uncertain and the cost of the uncertainty… is paid in locums, with all the difficulties and downsides that have been mentioned.”
He added: “We have in this country for far too long been pinching doctors from the developing world to make up for the shortfall… and long-term planning is vital to stop this.”
But the Government declined to support the amendment, with health minister Edward Argar insisting it was taking the issue seriously.
He said: “We reflect very carefully upon it (workforce planning), and we have already, as I set out, not only plans for elective recovery and further reforms to improve recruitment and support for our workforce but we also announced yesterday the merger of Health Education England with NHS England, which we believe is an important next step in making sure that workforce needs can be considered in the round.”
He said in July the Government commissioned a “robust long-term 15-year strategic framework for the health and social care workforce”.
Mr Argar said the Government has made “significant progress” in recruiting more doctors and nurses but “there is clearly a lot more to do, we recognise that”, adding “we are in no way complacent or resting on our laurels in the case of workforce”.
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said in a statement: “We hope this issue will be taken up by peers when the Health and Care Bill moves to the House of Lords, especially given the strength of feeling expressed by MPs today and the widespread backing for this clause from across the health and care sector.”
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson added: “Trust leaders will be disappointed by this outcome.”
Debate on the Bill continued for a second day following Monday night’s crunch vote on the social care cap, which also involved ministers seeing off a Tory revolt.
The Prime Minister narrowly succeeded in getting MPs to back his new policy to cap care costs in England, but his majority was slashed.
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