NHS staff retiring early due to 'stress and pressure', says former health secretary Jeremy Hunt

NHS workers are retiring early because of the "stress and pressure" they face, combined with "perverse" pension arrangements, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Conservative MP for South West Surrey said preventing doctors and nurses from leaving the health service is crucial to addressing a backlog of almost six million people waiting to receive NHS treatment.

Speaking to LBC, the chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee said: "I think one of the things that will make a difference is to do things that stop people leaving the NHS.

The former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says the NHS faces an 'unquantifiable challenge'. Credit: PA

"We’re getting a lot of people leaving the NHS, we’re getting a lot of people who are retiring early because of the stress and pressure.

"Some people find that it doesn’t pay to work beyond a certain age because of the pension arrangements, which are very perverse at the moment, so we could attack those.

"But I would say, most of all, what people want to know is that the pressure of not having enough doctors and nurses is not going to go on forever."

He said a new report will look at how the pandemic has caused a backlog for the NHS.

Mr Hunt said the report will look "at the bigger problem we were facing before Omicron".

He added: "The one thing people are not talking about is a shortage of funding. What they're talking about is not being able to find the staff to do the work, and that's why we say in this report the biggest gap at the moment in the Government's plans to deal with this huge six million waiting list is a lack of doctors and nurses and a lack of a plan to find those doctors and nurses.

"You need about 4,000 more doctors, 17,000 more nurses to deal with this backlog, and what we have argued is that you need to have independent forecasts to make sure that we are training enough doctors and nurses.

"But the trouble is that the number of doctors and nurses training, it takes seven years to train a doctor, 10 years actually to train a GP, and so it's always low in the priorities for health sectors."

Credit: PA

Jeremy Hunt said short-term measures are also needed to tackle the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We need to go a lot further. We've got six million people on the waiting list, we've got a crisis in our A&E department, record number of 999 calls, double the referrals to children and young people's mental health in some areas.

"If we're going to tackle all of that we need a lot of short-term measures as well, and what we don't have is a workforce plan that says how we are going to get these 4,000 doctors, and unless we do that, we're going to find this incredible frustration from taxpayers' point of view, that they're putting the money in, but they're not getting the results out that they were promised."

Jeremy Hunt said about £6 billion a year is currently spent on on locum and agency medical staff because not enough doctors are being trained.

The chairman of the Health and Social Care committee told LBC: "The issue is it costs about £250,000 to train a doctor... so it's that cost which means we limit the number of doctors we train."

The Great Western Hospital in Swindon declared a 'critical incident' on Tuesday, January 4

It comes as 24 hospital trusts have declared critical incidents as the NHS battles a wave of Omicron infections.

Swindon's Great Western Hospital declared a critical incident on Tuesday, January 4, due to "very high numbers of Covid-19 patients as well as patients with a range of complex conditions" arriving at its A&E department.

On Thursday, January 6, the Trust said that 59 patients were being treated for Covid-19, of which two are in ICU, which meant the hospital would remain at a critical incident status, adding that "staff are working incredibly hard to continue providing care to every patient who needs it."

Meanwhile, the NHS trust which runs Poole Hospital and the Royal Bournemouth Hospital in Christchurch, Dorset declared a critical incident on Wednesday, January 5, but was able to remove the status the day after.

However the Trust did warn that there were "difficult weeks" ahead, and it may need to "go back into critical incident" status to ensure it can still provide critical services.

Salisbury District Hospital has restricted visitors due to the rise in Covid patients. Credit: ITV News

Salisbury District Hospital in Wiltshire has restricted general visiting as Covid rates have increased significantly over the past two weeks.

The hospital says families can agree visiting with the ward sister in exceptional circumstances to ensure some people can visit their loved ones.

Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey has also temporarily closed to visitors due to the rising numbers of Covid patients.

The Trust says the move will help to minimise the spread of the virus between visitors, patients and staff.

The hospital says the decision has not been taken lightly but the priority is ensuring patient safety.