• Matt Hancock says other areas also have problems, but these are the most severe
  • Paying for EU staff’s settled status a “good idea” locally, but won’t be introduced nationally

Nurses, GPs and mental health staff are “the big three” areas where the health and social care secretary is most concerned about staff shortages, he told HSJ.

Matt Hancock said:

  • England needed to train more staff, attract more from oversees, and transfer more from agency and bank to permanent contracts
  • The NHS long-term plan would feature initiatives on nurse training
  • Officials are reviewing incentives which are causing staff to move to part-time
  • The NHS nationally will not pay for EU staff settled status applications, but he thought it was a “good idea” for trusts

He said he accepted there was a “shortage… especially for nurses, GPs [and] in mental health”.

“Those are the three areas I am most concerned about. There are other areas [with problems] some diagnostic capabilities for instance, but the big three are mental health, GPs and nurses,” he said.

He said solutions included domestic training and policies, continuing to attract staff from abroad, and dealing with the fact people are “choosing to work for bank or agencies rather than taking on a full-time contract”.

Mr Hancock said: “We’ve got work going on on training, and you’ll see a lot more on that in the long-term plan especially with respect to nurses.

“We’ve got record numbers in training as GPs at the moment, but there are also people leaving the profession in too large numbers, and moving from full-time to part-time, and so we’re looking at the incentives that are behind some of that.”

Asked about the trusts offering to pay for and support EU staff applying for settled status after Brexit, Mr Hancock said he thought it “was a good idea” but “a matter for trusts individually”, and that he would not be introducing it nationally.

“No, I support this settled status system… actually some of the first people it’s available to is people who work in the NHS.

“If trusts want to make up fees that’s fine, but central government has decided what the fees are from our point of view.”

Brexit medicines

Asked about the medicines supply if the UK exists the EU with no customs deal, Mr Hancock acknowledged that delays at sea ports could mean the additional six week stockpiles which all pharma companies have been required to keep may be insufficient.

He pointed out that additional stock of many medicines was already held, but added: “There comes a point at which you cannot simply stockpile, you need to find alternative routes, and whether that is through prioritisation of medicines [at ports] or other transit like aircraft, we are looking at the options now.”