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Health and Care Bill: a missed opportunity to address the workforce crisis

The Health and Care Bill received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022, meaning it has now become law. Unfortunately, we don't think it went far enough to help cancer patients.

The Health and Care Bill received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022, meaning it has now become law. This blog outlines the work we did during the passage of the Bill in parliament to improve breast cancer workforce planning in England.

The breast cancer workforce is facing a crisis

From breast screening and diagnostic services to the nurses who provide support and care – the breast cancer workforce is under critical pressure, with shortages amongst staff needed to deliver vital services.

The pressure on the cancer workforce has been exacerbated by the pandemic and, worryingly, we continue to hear about staff burnout. Patients and healthcare professionals have told us that workforce pressures are impacting patient experience and care, with long waits for appointments to see specialists and for test results, which we know can cause a great deal of worry.

One breast radiologist explains:

'Workforce pressures and shortages have an impact on patient care. Our breast unit is on its knees and, despite bending over backwards to meet the two-week wait target for an urgent referral by a GP for someone with possible breast cancer symptoms, we’re now breaching this target on a regular basis.

'We’re having to curtail or reduce breast clinics, often at very short notice, which means patients may not get all the investigations they need at the time of their clinic appointment, which we know can cause anxiety and worry.'

We urgently need the Government to invest in the cancer workforce, which is why we’ve worked with others to try and improve workforce planning as part of the recent Health and Care Bill.

The Health and Care Bill

Introduced to parliament in July 2021, the Health and Care Bill outlined a number of proposals aimed at reforming the delivery and organisation of care in England. This included the Secretary of State publishing a report describing the system for assessing and meeting future workforce needs.

However, we felt this didn’t go far enough and would not address the acute pressures facing the breast cancer workforce now or prepare us for future demand on cancer services. Along with over 100 other health and care organisations, we supported an amendment to the bill to strengthen workforce planning by calling on the government to publish independent assessments of workforce numbers needed to deliver care to patients for the following five, 10 and 15 years.

A big thank you to our supporters who asked their MPs to back the workforce amendment. This contributed to many MPs voting in favour of the amendment and helped to shine a light on the workforce crisis facing the NHS. However, despite this support, the amendment was rejected by the government.

What’s next for our plans on workforce?

Although we are disappointed that the government did not use this important opportunity to improve workforce planning, our joint work ensured that the crisis facing the cancer workforce remained on the political agenda.

Our work doesn’t stop here. We will continue to call for a long-term sustainable, fully-funded NHS workforce plan, backed by workforce forecasting to understand the numbers needed today and in the future, to provide vital care and treatment to people with breast cancer.

The upcoming 10-year Cancer Plan for England must include measures to address workforce shortages. We will also continue to raise the need for a sustainable and supported breast cancer workforce across the UK, including as part of the current consultation on the new cancer strategy for Scotland.

Campaigning for progress is such an important part of what we do here at Breast Cancer Now, but we couldn't do it without your help. To stay up to date with our work and find out how you can get involved, visit our campaigns page.

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