North Yorkshire council bosses write to government over NHS staffing concerns

North Yorkshire’s health watchdog has written to the Secretary of State for Health and the Shadow Health Minister due to mounting concerns in the county about workforce shortages in health and social care.

North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee will also send the cross-party letter to the county’s MPs and the chair of Westminster’s Health Select Committee. The letter sets out the workforce challenges facing North Yorkshire and urges changes to national policy. 

The scrutiny of health committee is calling for a reshaping of the health and social care workforce with more integrated roles across the two sectors to address workforce shortages.

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It is also calling for clarity about the rights of EU workers; a review of the financial support that is offered to people seeking training in health and social care; that additional funding is made available to the NHS and local authorities to enable increases in pay rates to be met, when and if the public sector pay cap is lifted; and the promotion of social care work as a career with national training and development put into place.

The committee said it acknowledged that these issues were being looked at by national government but it is very concerned about the impact of national policy in North Yorkshire which faces huge pressures due to size, sparsity and increasing numbers of older people, ahead of national averages.

“Despite people’s best efforts, I am concerned that the workforce shortages that we are currently experiencing will get worse due to the impact of the UK exit from the EU and the end of student bursaries for nursing and midwifery”, said Cllr Jim Clark, Chair of the Scrutiny of Health Committee.

The committee believes the issues are not being tackled nationally in a joined up and systematic way.

Cllr Clark said: ”The complexities of the health and social care system and the fractured nature of the NHS has meant that, despite the hard work of regional bodies and agencies, workforce planning is often undertaken in silos or unilaterally.”

North Yorkshire’s Scrutiny of Health Committee and the Care and Independence Overview and Scrutiny Committee have held a series of joint meetings over the last three months at which expert witnesses from health and social care have given evidence about workforce planning issues impacting upon North Yorkshire, the North East and UK.

The key issues identified at these joint meetings were:

  • National shortages in social care staff due to increasing demand for social care for older people; the social care role being poorly perceived; perceived lack of career progression; low pay rates; a rising cost of living;  competition with other sectors (hospitality and retail), difficulties in retaining staff, shortages of affordable housing and falling levels of unemployment.
  • Workforce pressures in the NHS due to pay restraint, increasing numbers of patients and the complexity of their health needs; the introduction of safe staffing policies and guidance following the Francis report after the Mid-Staffordshire enquiry; uncertainty about the impact of the UK exit from the EU.
  • Recruitment and retention of some skilled medical staff in North Yorkshire and the North East is more difficult than elsewhere in the country.
  • Shortages in permanent staff in health and social care mean that employers often fill gaps with agency, locum and other temporary staff.  This creates additional expense and is inefficient
  • The UK Exit from the EU and the ending of bursaries for nurse and midwifery training are likely to create additional pressures upon health and social care workforce shortages.

The joint committee heard at a meeting earlier this month that social care commissioners and providers were working to raise awareness of the advantages of working in social care and the opportunities to build a rich and fulfilling career.

Cllr John Ennis, chair of the care and Independence Overview and Scrutiny Committee, stated: “Members were keen to see the county council continue to promote social care careers, as an interesting and rewarding career option for a broad-base of non-traditional workers, such as: retirees; young people; students; men; ex-military; long term unemployed; and people on Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit.”

Cllr Jim Clark added: “As well as promoting careers in all aspects of health and social care, the challenge is to reshape the workforce, change the skills mix and develop new roles that reduce the dependence on traditional and hard to fill roles, such as GPs.  We need to be innovative rather than fall into the trap of continuing to try and recruit to those roles that are never going to be filled.”