Addressing the shortage of nurses and other staff across health and care services must be at the top of the incoming prime minister’s priorities, nursing and health leaders have urged.
Today it was announced that Liz Truss has become the new leader of the Conservative Party and will therefore become the country’s new prime minister once she is formally appointed by the Queen on Tuesday.
“She must begin by accepting that safe numbers of staff are needed immediately”
Formerly foreign secretary, Ms Truss beat former chancellor Rishi Sunak in the leadership contest which was called following the resignation of Boris Johnson earlier this year.
Responding to her appointment, those representing the profession and the NHS have once again called for a fully funded workforce plan and have urged the new prime minister to accept that “safe numbers of staff are needed immediately”.
It comes as latest data from NHS Digital shows the NHS in England has a record level of nurse vacancies, which now stand at almost 47,000.
Ms Truss already faced backlash from the nursing profession when she proposed the ending of national pay deals for public sector staff in England during her campaign last month. She later retracted her comments and said current levels of public sector pay will be maintained.
The general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said Ms Truss “must demonstrate to the millions of people in the UK’s health and care workforce that not only is she listening but also delivering”.
“Decisive political action to help them at home and at work has never before been required with such urgency,” she added.
Ms Cullen vowed to speak “directly” with Ms Truss, on behalf of nursing staff, on the profession’s “expectations and support for a world-class system”.
“Her stewardship of a knife-edge NHS and care system will be a key way that the public will now judge Liz Truss,” she added.
“She must begin by accepting that safe numbers of staff are needed immediately to stand the best chance of reducing waiting lists, giving appointments and quite literally saving lives.”
It is just 10 days until the RCN launches its industrial strike action ballot over the latest pay awards for NHS nurses in the UK.
“After many years of underinvestment, they are standing up for patients and themselves,” noted Ms Cullen.
“Until the new prime minister puts forward a fair and adequate proposal, I will continue in asking nursing staff to take strike action.”
Meanwhile, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said Ms Truss “now has an opportunity to lead a government which must take decisive action on the key challenges facing the NHS and social care, including severe staff shortages, treatment backlogs, NHS funding and social care reform, and support it to deliver”.
“We need to see a fully-funded long-term workforce plan for the NHS sooner rather than later,” she urged.
“With a staggering 130,000 vacancies across trusts in England alone, we know the NHS simply doesn’t have enough staff to deliver everything being asked of it.”
Poor pay, the cost-of-living-crisis and ongoing pension concerns “is making it increasingly difficult for trusts to recruit and keep vital health workers”, added Ms Cordery.
“Patients experience the impact of this daily,” she said, while noting that elective care waiting lists have now reached 6.7 million.
Ms Cordery warned that any action for the health service must be “underpinned by a long-term funded plan for the future of social care”.
“The interdependence of health and social care is clear for all to see: for the NHS to succeed, so must social care,” she said.
“Bold action must be taken to put social care on a sustainable footing.”
The Cabinet Office was contacted for comment.