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Urgent action is required to tackle the NHS’ financial problems

Patrick Cullen 09 October 2015

In this blog, communications manager Patrick Cullen addresses today’s NHS financial revelations, and how these problems can be assuaged

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Today’s announcement of the £930 million overspend over the first quarter of 2015-16 is deeply troubling. Much of the financial pressure placed on the NHS results from staffing issues. Over the first quarter of this year alone, £515 million was spent on contract and agency staff – £192 million more than planned. This cost is both unsustainable and potentially unnecessary.

The NHS must face up to the magnitude of the problem it is facing with staff engagement and retention.

For too long, staff across the service have been denigrated and squeezed; asked to provide a better service for more patients with increasingly complex and chronic conditions. This paradigm shift in the needs of patients has, unfortunately, come at a time when resources are decreasing and uncertainty is increasing.

In order to maintain patient safety, trusts up and down the country are using agency staff at exorbitant cost. More than 75% of trusts are now in deficit.

Why engaged staff matter to patients

An engaged and supported workforce is central to developing a compassionate, patient-centred approach to care.  Our chief executive Jocelyn Cornwell wrote to the Secretary of State in May, urging him to establish a ‘staff engagement and support’ fund for organisations.

The health service urgently requires an injection of funding now in order to confront the issues around staff retention.  Provision of funding would be dependent on demonstrating a return on investment in staff engagement.

While funding alone will not solve all of the health service’s problems, it is without doubt the best starting point. It will not be possible for trusts to deliver the integrated services that are described in the Five Year Forward View while also making the savings that are being asked of them.

Evidence shows that the trusts who create an enabling environment for their staff fare better on the staff survey and record improved outcomes for patients.  The Care Quality Commission also recognises staff engagement as an indicator of a well-led organisation.  It is one of the main antecedents to patient experience, and improvements to staff experience are unlikely whilst staff are facing pay restrictions and uncertain employment conditions.