General election: Invest in staff to improve the NHS

DAUK’s Dr Ellen Welch has highlighted the issues facing NHS workers as she urged politicians to invest in staff to help improve morale.

Writing a column for Metro online, Dr Welch, former co-chair of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), said its staff was the health service’s most-valuable resource.

But she said that after ‘years of disinvestment, poor workforce planning, rock bottom staff wellbeing and plummeting retention – we have a chronic workforce crisis’ as she put the NHS firmly on the election agenda.

Dr Welch was responding to an announcement by Wes Streeting that Labour planned to cut NHS waiting lists by asking staff to deliver  ‘40,000 more appointments a week through evening and weekend clinics’.

Staff pressures

She said: “In March 2024, there were the equivalent of 1,790 fewer fully qualified full-time GPs than there were in September 2015. In secondary care – as of December 2023 – there were 110,781 unfilled posts, which in itself piles the pressure on existing staff who are already doing their level best to stay afloat.

“With 7.54 million people now on waiting lists for treatment (3.23 million who have been waiting more than 18 weeks), and GPs delivering over 1.49 million appointments on average per day: NHS staff are already working to exhaustion.

“They are already doing the work of at least two people, covering unstaffed rotas, missing their weddings and time with their children. But let’s ask them to work more shall we?

“It seems our politicians are oblivious to the current experience of staff on the ground. While tackling waiting lists is a worthy goal – the idealism of these political promises may appeal to some voters, but these sound bites are not grounded in reality.”

Dr Welch, a GP and member of DAUK’s GP committee, reminded politicians that 1.5 million people work in the NHS in England.

Skilled NHS staff

“That is a lot of votes,” she said. “There are also a lot of skilled, knowledgeable professionals who have so much to offer our health service.

“Asking them to simply work harder, rather than recognising how difficult it already is to work within the NHS right now is not going to win an election, or solve this crisis. 

“Invest in the staff – pay them better, improve working conditions, eradicate box-ticking soul-crushing bureaucracy which takes time away from the actual job.”

Read Dr Welch’s column in full.

Dr Welch will be taking part in a briefing for prospective MPs on Wednesday 19 June to discuss the crisis in general practice and things that could be done to tackle it.

DAUK election briefing

The briefing, Why Can’t I See My GP? The Great British Paradox, is based on her book Why Can’t I See My GP?, a copy of which we sent to all 650 MPs in March.

Dr Welch will be joined in the briefing by colleagues from DAUK’s GP committee, including its chair Dr Lizzie Toberty, and members Dr Steve Taylor and Dr Sarah Jacques.

DAUK is asking people to invite the candidates standing in their constituency to attend the briefinf. Find out the candidates in your constituency at https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/

This election is vital to the future of the NHS.

Find out more about the briefing.

Become a DAUK member and support our work.