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Health service plans poorly, raising costs, UK lawmakers say

[LONDON] The state-run National Health Service in England risks raising costs and forcing patients to wait longer for care because of "poor workforce planning" that leaves it reliant on temporary agency staff, a cross-party panel of lawmakers said.

The NHS bodies that run hospitals and other services suffer from a shortfall of 50,000 nurses and doctors because unrealistic efficiency targets have left them with "overly optimistic and aggressive staffing profiles," the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said in a report published on Wednesday. After cutting staff to meet spending goals, they've then relied on more costly temporary workers to plug gaps, it said.

"Front-line staff such as doctors and nurses are the lifeblood of the service, yet the supply of these staff in England is not keeping pace with demand," PAC Chairwoman Meg Hillier said in an e-mailed statement.

"This poor workforce planning means patients face the possibility of longer waiting times and a greater cost to the public purse."

The government is currently in a standoff with junior doctors over a new contract it's trying to introduce to meet the Conservative Party's election pledge to establish a "seven-day-a-week NHS."

That's led to strikes by the doctors, who argue the new working conditions will make patients less safe. The panel said the government hasn't calculated the cost of the seven-day pledge separately and is reliant on a previous promise of 10 billion pounds (S$19 billion) of additional health spending to fund the policy.

'Beggars Belief'

"It beggars belief that such a major policy should be advanced with so flimsy a notion of how it will be funded - namely from money earmarked to cover all additional spending in the NHS to the end of the decade," Ms Hillier said.

The panel recommended that all new major health-policy initiatives should "consider the workforce implications" and called on the Department of Health to report back by December with "a summary of these implications in relation to the seven- day NHS."

The UK government is only responsible for health in England; the semi-autonomous administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their own services.

BLOOMBERG