Three years on: a workforce for the future

We made recommendations about the workforce needed to provide the care and support that people with lung disease are entitled to expect. Here is what happened in 2021.

Comment from Alison Cook, Chair of Taskforce

Our five-year plan for improving the nation’s lung health set out that we need a larger and better trained and supported respiratory workforce to provide treatment and care to patients with lung disease. We first published our recommendations in 2018, when the workforce was already too small to cope with the demand for diagnosis and treatment, and now, with the advent of COVID-19 many more people have been affected by the chronic shortage of respiratory staff. We have a specialist respiratory workforce who have been redeployed to be at the forefront of the NHS’s response to the number of people in hospital with COVID-19.  Healthcare staff vacancies in respiratory, imaging, primary care and across nursing and rehabilitation services, are higher than ever, at the very time that demand has soared. These shortages and the disruption to the standard ways of working and delivery of care continues to have a huge impact on people with existing long term lung conditions and is being felt across the NHS. 

It is encouraging that the Comprehensive Spending Review referenced that ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ would be made available for expanding the workforce, but the NHS urgently needs the details of which specialities will be supported, in what manner, with what resources and in what timeframe.  However, there is still no publication date for the long awaited for NHS England People Plan.  We call on the government to prioritise providing comprehensive details of how these significant workforce issues can be addressed promptly and effectively.

We hope that national policy makers will heed the recommendations for secondary care in the recently published Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) respiratory medicine report. Many of the recommendations echo those of Taskforce, and provide a strong indication of the priority actions needed to deliver positive change. The report also provides ample evidence that even with the wealth of innovation taking place in many locations, there are simply not enough respiratory healthcare people. It outlines a clear map of the workforce requirements to improve the care of patients.

This year, we had the opportunity to raise our concerns, and the importance of the needs of the respiratory workforce directly to the new NHS England Chief Executive Office, Amanda Pritchard. Taskforce wrote a letter requesting action in support of the respiratory workforce as a priority on her arrival into post. We have also hosted a meeting for our members to exchange insights and plans for future activity to influence government action on workforce issues.

Taskforce will continue to reiterate our call for an urgent review into shortages in the respiratory workforce. The future quantity and quality of respiratory treatment and care is at risk if this is not prioritised in 2022.