All political parties ‘missing in action’ on major NHS medical staffing crisis

HCSA – the Hospital Doctors union has accused all the main political parties of failing to answer the long-term medical understaffing in hospitals, which together with ongoing pension tax issues has left NHS services facing crisis.

It comes as new data reveals the struggle the NHS may face to attract back those doctors affected by tax problems.

HCSA warns that pledges by parties to review the impact of pension tax fall short of the “meaningful action” needed to reform a system which has driven many hospital doctors to reduce hours and step down from senior roles to avoid effectively paying the NHS for the extra workload.

The union describes as “astonishing” the failure by all parties to address shortages of hospital doctors – an issue absent from all the main manifestos.

The Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour have merely said they will “look at” or “review” the pension issue. Meanwhile pledges on additional staffing have been restricted to GPs and nursing staff.

The analysis of electoral pledges by the union coincides with the release of new data underlining the impact of the pensions tax crisis on hospital doctor behaviour. It suggests that the NHS will struggle to coax back many of those who have reduced agreed hours to the core 40 or gone part time – even if wholesale reform of the pension taper and allowances is introduced.

HCSA research reveals that over three-quarters of hospital doctors say only the abolition of the taper or reform of annual tax allowances would be enough coax them into doing additional hours or taking on senior roles, while nearly 20 per cent of hospital doctors said they would not increase hours or take on senior roles whatever solution was on offer.

The research suggests that slow action by the government following more than a year of warnings on the impact of the pension tax crisis may now be having a permanent effect on the life choices of some doctors.

Officially, medical vacancies in England stood at 7.1% in the second quarter of 2019/20. However, this is based on a count of published job advertisements rather than the number of vacant posts in the system. The actual number is likely to be considerably higher, with earlier research conducted by HCSA showing that around one in five respondents (14.5%) reported staffing gaps that were not officially recognised by their employer, while 77% of hospital doctors reported unfilled vacancies in their department and nearly half reported that their team was covering three or more vacancies.

HCSA warns that widespread failure to acknowledge the underlying shortfall of hospital doctors prior to the pensions issue had been masked by thousands working routine overtime.

HCSA President Dr Claudia Paoloni said: “While the NHS is taking on 3,000 or so new hospital doctors each year, we face growing demand and the pensions crisis has led to reducing capacity among our most senior grades. They previously worked above and beyond on a systematic basis, but we see growing evidence that many have no intention of going back to that culture. The window of opportunity is closing for the government and Treasury.

“We now face a ticking bomb which requires steps to retain our most senior, experienced hospital doctors now, before it is too late.

“It is simply astonishing at this late stage in the pension tax crisis that all the main parties are missing in action when it comes to the obvious solution – it’s not another review, it’s Treasury action to scrap the tax taper and reform annual allowances.

“Equally all parties must commit to the training and recruitment of more hospital doctors in recognition of the issues we will increasingly face as future generations refuse to work routine 60 and 70-hour weeks. It takes around 15 years to train a hospital Consultant. Action must start now.”