Strikes cannot become ‘business as usual’, says NHS England chief

Amanda Prichard told a BBC current affairs show on Sunday that industrial action could not become the norm.

Industrial action cannot become “business as usual”, the NHS chief executive has warned.

It comes after the Government published its plan for a massive shake-up in how the NHS recruits and retains staff, promising thousands more workers in a bid to revive and reform the embattled health service.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay dodged questions about where funding for the £2.4 billion plan would come from, as he insisted that ministers were “making progress” on the Prime Minister’s pledge to cut waiting lists.

Under the plan, more than 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers are expected to be employed in the NHS in England over the coming years.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The possibility of cutting the amount of time that doctors spend in medical school, driving up the number of home-grown NHS staff and ramping up apprenticeship places are among the ideas to deal with severe staff shortages.

The plan, along with new retention measures, could also mean the health service has at least an extra 60,000 doctors, 170,000 more nurses and 71,000 more allied health professionals in place by 2036/37.

But the plan comes as the NHS grapples with industrial action and staff frustration at pay and conditions, as post-pandemic pressures continue.

Junior doctors will stage a five-day walkout in the middle of this month while consultants – the most senior hospital doctors – will stage industrial action two days later.

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard said that pay was a matter for unions and ministers, but she warned: “There has been a significant amount of disruption and that is only, at the moment, going to get more significant as we hit the next round of strikes.

“It is patients that are paying the price for the fact that all sides have not yet managed to reach a resolution.”

“The sooner that we can being this to an end the better.”

“We can’t let it become business as usual for the NHS.”

She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that her job was to “make sure that while that is going on we’re doing our best to support the NHS through what is now an unprecedented period of industrial action”.

Appearing on the same programme, Mr Barclay declined to set out the where the new NHS investment would come from, amid questions about whether it would be funded with borrowing.

“The chancellor will announce that at the next fiscal event so I will let him set out where that will be paid for,” he said.

Rishi Sunak and ministers hailed the significance of the plan when it was launched this week, stressing the Conservatives’ commitment to the NHS.

Officials also said the plan would have a “renewed focus on retention” – with more flexible working options and better career development.

Industrial strike
Striking NHS junior doctors on the picket line outside Leicester Royal Infirmary earlier this year (Jacob King/PA)

It is hoped the plans, along with reforms to pension schemes, could mean up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer.

Health leaders have also agreed that the plan needs to be revised every two years to accommodate changing needs across the service.

It comes after years of difficult and draining winters for the health service, with concerns over staffing, funding and the future of the NHS.

Former health minister Lord Bethell used the word “rationing” to describe the current approach to treatment, as millions of patients complain of lengthy delays for treatment.

“If someone has a need for an operation and you simply don’t have the resources to give them what they need then you are going beyond the important protocols of allocating scarce resources in the best way possible and you are being defined by the amount of resources that you have available,” he told the BBC.

More from Perspective

Get a free copy of our print edition


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.