Against a context of workforce shortages, funding pressures and reconfiguration of services, concerns about the morale of the NHS and social care workforce are not new. Even before the pandemic, one third of the doctors who responded to a survey published by the BMJ in January 2020 were described as burned out, with those in emergency medicine and general practice most impacted.
In June 2019, the predecessor Health and Social Care Committee held a one-off evidence session with Baroness Harding on the Interim People Plan, intended to complement the NHS Long Term Plan and focus on the challenges specific to the health service workforce. Key proposals included making the NHS the ‘best place to work’ and improving leadership culture. In July 2020 We are the NHS: People Plan for 2020/21–action for us all was published, along with Our NHS People Promise, with further detail expected after that Autumn’s Spending Review.
But following that, the covid-19 pandemic had increased workforce pressures exponentially. 92% of trusts told NHS Providers they had concerns about staff wellbeing, stress and burnout following the pandemic. Witnesses told the Committee of their worry about the “exhaustion of large groups of staff” and we heard about staff who were going above and beyond in the face of their own trauma, with an “unimaginable” impact on those who had to return to busy hospital wards after supporting people through the death of their loved ones over the phone. In social care, colleagues faced “heartbreak” at the excess deaths of those for whom they were caring, coupled with a sense of feeling “abandoned” as the focus early in the pandemic had been on the NHS. Our inquiry into Social care: funding and workforce had already been told how difficult the pandemic was for social care workers. Covid-19 significantly increased pressure on social care teams–not least in the impact on staff of large numbers of deaths among service users–but there was still no equivalent to the People Plan, a point already raised in the Committee’s current inquiry into Social care: funding and workforce. Workforce burnout was described by many as the highest in the history of the NHS and care systems and as such, it is an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services.
1 McKinley N, McCain RS, Convie L, et al, “”, BMJ Open 2020;10:e031765
2 Oral evidence taken on 4 July 2019,
3 NHS England, (June 2019)
4 NHS England, (July 2020)
5 NHS England, (July 2020)
6 NHS Providers, (accessed 22 April 2021)
7 Oral evidence taken on 14 May 2020, HC (2019–21) 320, [Richard Murray, Chief Executive, The King’s Fund]
8 Macmillan Cancer Support ()
9 Diocese of Rochester ()
10 House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Third Report of Session 2019–21, , HC 206