BIOS welcomes the publication of the NHS England’s People Plan as further recognition of the value of NHS staff and the need to provide them with greater support. However, while the plan sets out some positive measures, there remains a lack of real detail on key issues, such as addressing staff shortages and the role of allied health professionals.
The Plan offers up some positive measures to support staff, particularly welcome given the increased pressure many have been throughout the response to COVID-19. This includes further support for staff health and wellbeing, a commitment to tackle systemic inequalities and make the NHS more representative of the communities they serve, and an increased emphasis on flexibility and new ways of working.
However, particularly in the context of the extra strain placed on services by the pandemic, there is still a lack of detail on how workforce shortages are to be addressed in the absence of any further spending commitments. Ophthalmology is the largest speciality in terms of outpatient attendances and demand is expected to increase, exacerbating existing capacity issues. Orthoptists are ideally placed to support these overstretched services but the Plan is unable to provide any concrete commitment on addressing these shortages, and the resultant high workloads and stress levels felt by staff in these services. The focus on recruitment and measure such as the support for clinical placements are welcome, but there will need to be the appropriate roles for these extra staff.
The Plan offers a renewed focus on new ways of working and delivering care, much of which is welcome. For example, we welcome the focus on funding for CPD and the upskilling of staff. However, we were disappointed by the lack of specific recognition of the skills and knowledge that already exists amongst the AHP workforce and the role that they could play in influencing new ways of working and supporting overstretched services. One really positive move would have been a mention of extending prescribing responsibilities, to maximise the impact of orthoptists and other AHPs working in advanced and extended roles.
The new People Plan is very much another interim step and there is a recognition that more work is still to be done, particularly in increasing staff in certain areas. We will be working alongside other professional bodies and unions to push for greater recognition of orthoptists and other AHPs as it begins to be implemented.