The UK government is drafting plans to “significantly” boost the number of overseas staff in the NHS to avert a winter crisis, according to the health secretary today.
In a bid to combat worsening delays in the NHS, health secretary Steve Barclay told the Telegraph: “I have been working at pace over recent weeks to accelerate our contingency plans, to look at specific levers such as increasing significantly our international recruitment.
“A big part of my focus has been giving a lot more ministerial time to looking at the issues on delayed discharge, on social care recruitment. If there’s pressure on the system and that requires more beds in the community, those beds need the workforce to go with them.”
There are currently 105,000 vacancies in the social care sector, according to government figures. More than a third of doctors joining the health service last year came from abroad, up from 18 per cent in 2014, data from NHS Digital found.
Barclay, who took on the role from Sajid Javid when he resigned in June, said he is looking to push Whitehall to “move much more quickly on decisions”, as key policy rulings get put on hold until Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak are elected as Tory leader in September.
“We have very real challenges coming down the track in the autumn and winter, and as far as I’m concerned there needs to be a real sprint within Whitehall, and particularly in the department of health, to get ready for September,” said Barclay.
“Part of my role is to prepare for reasonable worst-case scenarios. Obviously those pressures can come in different forms. It might be you get a bad flu, it may be Covid rates are higher than we would expect or like.
“There’s an urgency of now to prepare, particularly in areas where there’s a long lead time. The decisions need to happen now, not wait until the autumn – by which time those lead times would put the resolution at too late a stage.”