Last reviewed 8 June 2021

A critical report by the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) has found workers were so exhausted and overstretched due to staff shortages, that it has become an "emergency" and risks the future of the health service.

Last July the HSCC, chaired by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, launched an inquiry into the state of the health and care workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, Workforce Burnout and Resilience in the NHS and Social Care, here, found that one of the main problems was that there was no effective workforce planning. It said there should be annual reports published on how many workers the NHS would need for the next five, 10 and 20 years. The report added: "It is clear that workforce planning has been led by the funding envelope available to health and social care rather than by demand and the capacity required to service that demand.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic began, the NHS faced shortages of around one in 10 or one in 12 staff and there were 50,000 nursing posts unfilled in the UK, according to the report. And in adult social care, 7.3% of roles had been vacant during the financial year 2019 to 2020, equivalent to around 112,000 vacancies at any one time.

According to the NHS staff survey in 2020, 44% of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous year. The pandemic increased workforce pressures exponentially, and 92% of trusts told NHS Providers that they had concerns about staff wellbeing, stress and burnout following the pandemic.

Jeremy Hunt told the BBC’s Today programme that a shortage of NHS staff was “the single biggest problem” as far as staff well-being was concerned, with not enough doctors or nurses in “nearly every medical specialty”. He said tackling the issue was “never enough of a priority” for the Government because the amount of years required to train up staff meant there weren't immediate results. But he said training more doctors and nurses would save money in the long term.

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: "We simply don't have enough GPs or other members of the practice team to meet demand and general practice is only set to get busier as we support our communities’ recovery from the pandemic.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Acting General Secretary Pat Cullen, said: “The unprecedented demand on nursing staff during the pandemic has had a huge impact on their own well-being. But, as this report shows, the cracks in the systems designed to look after nursing staff appeared years ago.”