The BMA has urged the Chancellor to deliver a package of financial measures this week to help the health and social care system recover from the pandemic

A stressed male doctor with his head on his hands behind a pile of work.

Tackling NHS workforce shortages must be a priority for the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he presents his spring statement this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

Rishi Sunak is facing a huge challenge in his mini-budget, in which he must address a mountain of public debt, a cost-of-living crisis, as well as a health and care system reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the Chancellor, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA Council Chair, said that workforce retention and growth was pivotal if the NHS in England was to tackle increased demand and pressure post-COVID-19.

‘Unprecedented pressures’

While acknowledging recent Government cash injections, he wrote that ‘historic underfunding, combined with the high levels of demand brought on by the COVID pandemic, mean the health system continues to face unprecedented pressures, and must continue to be the focus of further investment.’

The letter calls for:

  • the development of a long-term, publicly available, fully funded workforce plan

  • a £1 billion welfare and wellbeing fund for staff

  • an enhanced remuneration package that includes an above-inflationary pay award and a solution for pension tax rules

  • the expansion of medical school places by up to 11,000 medical graduates per year on average over the next 3 years, with a £2.7 billion spend per year by 2024–2025.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Our estimate is that we have a shortage of around 46,300 doctors in England, while a combination of factors such as burnout and punitive pension taxation rules have led to significant numbers of medical professionals considering leaving the profession or reducing their hours.’

NHS staff COVID-19 testing

The BMA also called for between £500 million and £800 million to be ring-fenced for free COVID-19 testing for healthcare staff to continue after April.

It also urged Mr Sunak to commit more money for modernising hospitals and NHS estates, saying that the cash already earmarked for projects falls £5 billion short of the £9.2 billion that NHS Digital has estimated will be needed to improve infrastructure.

The letter also emphasises that there should be no delay in allocating the £12.4 billion each year that the Health and Social Care levy was expected to raise.

Among its other priorities, the doctors’ union said that it wanted to see:

  • a further £5–£7 billion to manage the backlog of non-COVID-19 care, with 10% of elective recovery funding allocated to primary care

  • investment in mental health to ensure true parity of esteem with physical health

  • increased funding for public health to address health inequalities

  • a priority on health prevention to minimise pressure on the health system and reverse the ‘worrying trends in population health’.

The Chancellor will present his spring statement in the Commons on Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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