The workforce woes plaguing many trusts are 'one-off issues' that will fade next year, health minister Lord Hunt has insisted.

The minister, who returned to the Department of Health last month, said that achieving financial balance this year would prevent the need for more 'tough measures' such as redundancies in the future.

At the final session of the workforce planning inquiry held by the Commons health select committee, he said: 'The issues we face this year are very much one-off issues.

'We expect the NHS to come back into financial balance at the end of the year and that will place it on a much better footing.'

But he came in for strong criticism from members of the committee, who called current workforce planning 'a mess'.

The MPs pointed to job freezes, unemployment and recruitment targets that are wildly out of step with actual staff numbers. Lord Hunt responded: 'It's not a mess. Clearly there have been some short-term decisions owing to the deficit.

'The NHS is trying to ameliorate that as much as possible - for example, by ensuring that where nurses find themselves without a job they are given advice about where other jobs may be.

'The long-term proposition is that the NHS will be able to identify where there are shortages and take action.'

The committee also discussed the quality of managers. Lord Hunt spoke of a 'variation' in their capabilities and the need to look to clinicians and the private sector in future recruitment efforts.

He said: 'I think there's clearly an issue about whether all our managers have the capabilities and the skills to drive forward some of the changes we want to see. Many of them are brilliant but there's clearly a variation in quality.'

He disputed the assertion that there are too few checks on managers, arguing that the high turnover of chief executives suggests this is not the case.

He added that it was important to look to clinicians and the private sector when searching for future managers.

However, the new director general of workforce, Clare Chapman, who joined the DoH from Tesco last month, took a different line.

She said: 'One thing that attracted me to the NHS was the size of the talent pool. It's critical to ensure that we carry out some very active talent-spotting.' If there was not enough talent in a million-strong workforce, then smaller companies would have a very big problem, she said.