The shadow health secretary has accused the government of losing confidence in the ability of strategic health authorities to manage workforce planning.
Andrew Lansley has written to health secretary Patricia Hewitt in response to the leaked Department of Health pay and workforce strategy for 2008-11. The document, revealed in HSJ last week, forecast a shortage of 14,000 nurses and a glut of 3,200 consultants by 2011.
In the letter, Mr Lansley said he was concerned that the DoH 'appears to have lost control of the tools needed to manage workforce numbers'. He quoted the draft document's warning that 'with decisions on workforce planning now led by SHAs, the levers available to us to ensure that workforce supply meets demands of the service across the NHS are now limited', as well as its plea to SHAs to restore recent reductions in nurse training.
He wrote: 'I was under the impression that the reason for devolving workforce planning to SHAs was to ensure that the supply of staff more adequately matched demand. It seems now that your department has lost confidence in the ability of SHAs to perform this task.'
He asked whether the DoH would take back control of their education and training budgets if SHAs failed to take the 'clear strategic direction for workforce development' that the draft strategy called for.
Mr Lansley also asked why the projections revealed last week suggesting an excess of consultants and allied health professionals by 2008-09 were so different from those in a 2004 document which assumed a shortage of 1,040 consultants in the same time.
And he was 'bemused' to see that 'the rationale given for restoring nursing training commissions was a fear that nursing wages would otherwise rise beyond what was affordable - as opposed to any genuine desire to improve care for patients.'
NHS Employers deputy director Sian Thomas feared the draft report's gloomy predictions would deter people from pursuing careers in the health service. She commented: 'There's no doubt that the labour market is changing. But it's important we see staff as a solution to this, not just a problem. We still need many thousands of people to take up careers in the NHS.'