"The elephant in the room is who will staff these additional beds? Nursing staff are already spread too thinly over too many patients.”
This week, the government kicked off ‘health week’, as it sought to try and portray itself as the party of the NHS, setting out plans to cut waiting lists and improve the quality of care.
Sunak’s big announcement which he trumpeted was 900 extra hospital beds, which he said would be vital to help deliver better care this winter and ‘mean more people can be treated quickly, speeding up flow through hospitals and reducing frustratingly long waits for treatment.’
Yet Sunak’s plan is nothing more than a sticking plaster for which the Tories have been rightly condemned.
As Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has pointed out, the Tories have cut 12,000 beds since 2010 and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has raised concerns about who exactly will staff the new beds amid workplace shortages.
The RCN’s chief executive Pat Cullen said: “The elephant in the room is who will staff these additional beds? Nursing staff are already spread too thinly over too many patients.”
To make matters worse, the new beds may not be available until January, meaning the NHS is once more left vulnerable to a winter crisis.
The Labour Party has also pointed out that 2023 “has been the worst year in the history of the NHS … on every measure”. It cited figures showing 570,000 people waited more than four hours in accident and emergency departments in July, with 7.6 million patients stranded on waiting lists.
Responding to the government’s announcement, Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “To improve care for patients the NHS also needs enough clinical professionals to staff these extra beds. While progress is being made to increase staffing numbers and deliver on the workforce plan, the NHS is facing 112,000 vacancies.
‘Additionally, hospitals don’t work in isolation. The latest performance figures showed that 11,900 patients remained in hospital on an average day despite being medically fit to be discharged. To free up more beds and staff in hospitals, there needs to be a focus on boosting capacity in community and primary care settings as well as social care reform.”
Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward
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