31 July 2023

Strikes, strikes and more strikes. Not just in the health sector but across multiple services. I feel a little like I’ve been transported backwards to the 1970s. I might start coming to work in a tie-dyed shirt, bell bottoms and Elton John-style platform shoes.

Like many of you, I suspect, I feel conflicted about striking. It has been interesting to watch the coverage of the recent radiographers’ strike, another crucial group whose work is essential to good patient care. The messaging seems to differ in tone from the doctors’ strikes; whilst pointing out the indisputable salary issues, they have been much more vocal about deteriorating patient safety and recruitment/retention as a major driver for their disquiet.

We should learn from this approach. I sincerely believe this to be a key factor for much of the unrest amongst the various professions, but I don’t think this comes across in debates just focusing on money. To be in the UK’s top 10% salary bracket, I believe you only have to earn marginally more than £60K. There is no doubt that salaries have decreased significantly for consultants. But with this fact in mind, it may be difficult to generate much sympathy, and I can’t help but feel that an approach with stronger messaging about standards and safety would give more leverage.

The long-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was finally published this month. At 150-odd pages, it’s quite a read. For those without the time or energy, my two-word summary would be “jam tomorrow”. The plan follows three key themes:

  1. expansion of training,
  2. improved culture and retention, and
  3. reforming staff structures with increasing associates and apprenticeships. 

There is an alarmingly ambitious efficiency target, which will be supported by technological and system change, plus a commitment to avoid the dearth of long-term planning for the healthcare workforce. I hope the NHS will learn its lessons that these changes need to be clinically led rather than central edicts.

In truth, I’m not certain how to interpret a statement emanating from an NHS working under a government that may not be here in 18 months. Although the programme may be fully “costed”, there is no reference to it being fully “funded”.

However, we should welcome this plan and continue to lobby for its execution. Keeping staff in post by improving working conditions is crucial. There is no point in training numerous new doctors, nurses, physicians and nursing associates if they are driven from the service by poor salaries and conditions. I was interested to hear from an Australian friend that they deliberately target disillusioned UK doctors via social media campaigns.

With the release of the NHS workforce plan, BSH’s Workforce Project seems very timely. The Board were delighted by the enthusiastic response to the call for a BSH Clinical Workforce Fellow. A strong field of applicants reassures us that we are on the right track. We will hold interviews over the next couple of weeks and hope to appoint a successful candidate shortly.