Autumn Statement sees welcome commitment on workforce planning

  • 21 Nov 2022
  • Jordan Marshall, Policy Manager

While health was not the central focus amid a range of important announcements on tax and spending, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement contained a positive commitment on workforce planning. RCOphth Policy Manager Jordan Marshall analyses the implications for ophthalmology.

Pledge to publish workforce plan with independent forecasts

Reflecting the calls for action on workforce planning from a wide range of organisations, including RCOphth, the Chancellor outlined the government’s commitment to ‘ensuring the NHS has the workforce it needs for the future, including publishing a comprehensive workforce plan next year. This will include independently-verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in 5, 10 and 15 years’ time’.

The commitment to publishing independent forecasts on future workforce need is an important step forward. While we are yet to see the full detail of these plans, including whether there will be funding to deliver what the plan says is needed, having this data in the public domain will make the case for long term investment in the workforce we need to meet future patient demand much clearer.

We will continue to articulate the need to increase the ophthalmology workforce to meet current and future patient demand. Long backlogs are being faced by ophthalmology services across the UK. In England, there are over 650,000 patients waiting to start consultant-led ophthalmology treatment. That is up by almost half (47%) on 2019, and these figures do not include the many patients waiting for follow-up treatment. Scotland has also seen the number of patients waiting for an ophthalmology outpatient appointment almost doubling since 2019, with similarly worrying trends in Wales and Northern Ireland. That need will only grow over the coming decade as services face the growing need from a rapidly ageing population.

Additional funding to support elective recovery and community discharge

£3.3bn has been promised in each of the next two years to support the NHS in England, which will support elective recovery as well as emergency and primary care. With such long backlogs in ophthalmology, we will continue to work with NHS England to ensure ophthalmology services are supported – including as part of the rollout of community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs.

The government also announced that in 2024/25, £1bn will be invested to directly support discharge from hospital into the community. An independent review of how Integrated Care Boards can work with ‘appropriate autonomy and accountability’ has also been commissioned.

We will keep you updated with these developments and any other news relevant for ophthalmology services. Please contact us on [email protected] if you have any comments or questions.