Spend money on NHS staff, not just buildings, PM is told

Experts call for investment in recruitment and development, as government pledges £1.8bn for hospital buildings and equipment

Experts have called for more money to be put into recruiting and training NHS staff, as the government announced additional funding for hospital buildings and equipment.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has today pledged £1.8bn of funding for hospitals in England, a mixture of general capital spending and cash to upgrade outdated facilities and equipment in specific hospitals. However, no new money was announced directly to fund staffing.

The government also said it would introduce changes to the way NHS pensions are treated later this week, aimed at fixing staffing problems that have been caused by senior doctors and consultants declining additional work because of the tax implications. 

Commenting on the announcement, Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, welcomed the extra money, but said a longer-term investment plan was needed to tackle both the NHS’s maintenance backlog and staffing shortages.

“As well as shoring up buildings, urgent action is needed to shore up the NHS workforce. Severe staff shortages are the biggest challenge facing the health service, with nearly 100,000 vacancies in NHS trusts,” said Murray.

“In addition to pensions reform, solving the workforce crisis will require a raft of measures, including financial incentives to attract more nurses and ramped-up international recruitment to plug rota gaps today.”

Murray added the NHS had a £6bn maintenance backlog and said some facilities were no longer fit for purpose. “A prolonged period of underfunding has increasingly left some patients at risk as staff struggle to cope with faulty equipment in buildings that are in some cases literally falling apart around them,” he said.

Of the money pledged, £850m will be spent on upgrading 20 hospitals, with the rest going towards the NHS’s capital spending budget. The money is said to come on top of extra spending pledged as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, announced in January this year.

The promise of changes to the NHS pension scheme was also welcomed by the NHS Confederation, which represents health service leaders. It has called for an overhaul of the pension system, as well as for the annual allowance for doctors to be scrapped. 

In 2016, limits were introduced to cap how much senior consultants earning more than £110,000 could contribute to their pensions, with doctors exceeding the threshold facing sizeable tax bills. 

As a result of the cap, many consultants have begun refusing extra hours to avoid breaching their pension contribution limits, resulting in staffing shortages, longer waiting times and concerns that the health service could be heading into a “meltdown”.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation and chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We support greater flexibilities to allow all members of the NHS pension scheme to control the value of their pension growth. We believe this will help improve capacity and patient care and we hope the prime minister will make rapid moves in this direction.

“The NHS Confederation and our members await the details of the new proposals with interest and also ask that [the] government commits to the reform of the taxation system applied to pensions.”