Vacancy rates in London’s NHS

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

The Royal College of Nursing has warned that the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement failed to “give any commitment to a funded strategy for England to address the tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs in health and care”. What conversations are you having with the NHS in London regarding this issue and what immediate actions do you think the Government need to take on this issue in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you, Chair. I share the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) concerns about the Government’s failure to decisively to address NHS workforce shortages. Vague references in the CSR to - and I quote - “hundreds of millions of pounds in additional funding to ensure a bigger and better trained NHS workforce” gives me little confidence. We need a clear, funded, multiyear Government plan to invest in NHS workforce expansion, education, and training. Despite an increase of 13% in nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff over the past four years, the vacancy rate in London is 13.5%. That is 9,445 posts.

Although I have limited powers in this area, I continue to champion, challenge and collaborate with London’s senior NHS leaders on workforce issues through regular meetings with Sir David Sloman, NHS London Regional Director. We also discussed health and care workforce challenges at the London Health Board meeting this week. I am proud to host access to the CapitalNurse programme on the GLA website and I will shortly be announcing details for a Health Skills Hub as part of my new Academies Programme.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor, for that answer. Of course, we are talking about the nurses and doctors, the heroes of the nation who were clapped every morning, not like these Tory MPs who were in the Virgin Islands taking advantage of the pandemic, double-dipping their earnings and voting remotely. We are talking about people who went in the morning, at night-time, looking after patients who were ill with COVID. They were the heroes of the pandemic. They ran towards the risks rather than running away to the Virgin Islands.

I want to just put on record the tremendous debt we owe to the NHS workers who have worked very hard and who have not been lining their pockets in the pandemic. This Government has treated them like villains, giving them a derogatory 3% pay rise when the inflation rate is 4.5%, demoralising them. They are leaving the NHS in droves. The commitment to an increase of 6,000 general practitioners (GPs) by 2025 has now been shelved with the Government accepting it cannot deliver it.

Given all this, do you think this Government is helping London to look after our NHS workers, and how can the Government help us more in London so that we can look after our heroes?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Firstly, Chair, can I through you thank Dr Sahota [AM] for the work he does for the NHS and the members of his family who work for the NHS and others, indeed, who work for the NHS and the social care sector as well.

I was at St Thomas’ Hospital this Monday and was hearing from some of the practitioners about the consequences of the last 18 months, which have compounded the consequences of austerity for the last 11 years, in relation to staff morale, staff fatigue, staff mental ill health, overwork, tiredness and also vacancies. My concern is not simply the issue you have addressed, which is how they feel let down - because they have been let down - but the impact that has on others joining the NHS. Why would you if you have seen how colleagues who are maybe thinking about joining have been treated over the recent past. It is really important that we do not take for granted the NHS and those who work in the NHS, and that we do not take for granted that these vacancies ‑‑ almost 10,000 vacancies in London in the NHS. Put aside social care for a second. That is why it is really important that the Government recognises this.

I have recently been watching the programme made by Ed Balls [broadcaster and former MP] on the BBC about social care, which has opened my eyes to actually what goes on, and what people were telling me last year inside those care homes and how they are transformative in relation to the care they provide to those who are older. It is really important that the Government steps in to support what is a service that is in danger of collapsing.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

Yes, of course, Mr Mayor, I work in the NHS and, as you said, my family work there. My colleagues are very upset about the way the Government treats them and tries to put a wedge between them and patients.

Let us just see what we can do in London to help our NHS staff. Are you concerned about the Government’s plans to cull the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) courses and its potential knock-on impact on preventing thousands of working-class young Londoners from going to university to train as nurses and healthcare workers? Can you use your Academies Programme to help to train up some of the capital’s next generation of nurses?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I discussed this matter with the Education Secretary recently. It is not about wanting to get rid of BTEC courses for the sake of it or because they do not want people to go to do these great jobs in the NHS. It is a question of simplifying the qualification. It is quite a complex area. We know about A levels. That is quite straightforward. The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is quite straightforward. There are lots and lots of BTEC courses. That simplicity and clarity would help us.

As far as the further education (FE) sector is concerned, we have now been devolved the AEB and we are looking at health academies. We are talking to those who are experts in social care about working with them in relation to social care academies because of the massive vacancies. Also, these are really fantastic jobs if the Government recognises this as an area that is going to be growing and gives us the resources they need. We are working with the FE sector. We are speaking to the Government.

Actually, I am always happy to criticise, but I want to commend [the Rt Hon] Nadhim Zahawi [MP, Secretary of State for Education] in relation to his collegial way of working. I am hoping he will listen to some of the concerns you are raising, and I will certainly make those points to him the next time I see him as well.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

The other thing of course is that the cost of housing is very expensive in London and social housing is not readily available. You have proposed the idea that maybe nurses and healthcare workers can be given priority for social housing. How are you progressing that idea?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Yes. The key concern we have is we have now record numbers of council homes being built - great news - but many of those who work in NHS are not eligible for those council homes because their wages may be slightly above the income threshold. How do we help those who are working in the NHS to be able to afford to live in London? They cannot afford the luxury penthouse flats that were built in previous years, and so we have to make sure there is intermediate housing at less than the market value that they can have access to. We are doing a lot of work with councils and with housing providers to ensure that there is keyworker housing reserved for people in the NHS and those who work in the health and care sector. We have recently hosted a housing for keyworkers event with key partners and I am hoping to make an announcement shortly about the first keyworkers being given this intermediate housing in London.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

One other thing of course the Government could help us with is giving us a fair settlement for TfL. The cost of travel is very expensive. Do you think the Government could help us by giving us a long-term settlement for TfL so that we could consider giving concessionary travel or subsidised travel to our NHS workers?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

We have given NHS workers access to the reimbursement scheme for the ULEZ. It was really important to do so. The Government wanted us to remove free travel for those over the age of 60 and free travel for those who are children. We managed to resist that last year. Most of the Assembly was on my side in that campaign to resist that and I thank members of the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, and the Labour Party for their support. We have to keep what we have. Of course, if we had more money from the Government and if we have a good recovery, we would look at more areas of concessionary travel.

I have to be honest, though. My concern is to avoid massive cuts in bus and Tube services as well as potential road and bridge closures. I do not want to give any false hope to colleagues in the NHS in that area.

Photo of Onkar Sahota Onkar Sahota Labour

Good. Thank you, Mr Mayor.