NHS in England facing deepening staffing crisis, figures show

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/26/nhs-in-england-facing-deepening-staffing-crisis-figures-show

By Denis Campbell Health policy editor

Vacancies for doctors, nurses, midwives and therapists at highest level for three years

The NHS is facing a deepening staffing crisis as hospitals report growing shortages of doctors, nurses, midwives and therapists, official figures have revealed.

Vacancies across the NHS in England for those key groups of health professionals are running at the highest level since records began three years ago, according to NHS Digital statistics released on Thursday.

NHS care providers, mainly hospital trusts, tried to recruit 69,408 nurses and midwives in the six months between October 2017 and March this year, the latest NHS vacancy figures show. That was up on the 64,127 for the same six-month period in 2016-17 and a big increase on the 57,964 in the same six months in 2015-16.

Similarly, the number of vacancies for doctors and dentists has risen from 18,105 between October 2015 and March 2016 to 20,339 in the same six months in 2017-18, though the latter number of unfilled roles is fewer than the 21,278 that were advertised in that period in 2016-17.

The number of vacancies for allied health professionals – including physiotherapists and occupational therapists – also rose from 16,159 in 2015-16 to 18,328. The number of healthcare scientists has also risen significantly over the same period, from 3,109 to 4,044.

However, vacancies for administrative and clerical staff have not changed. There were 35,465 in 2015-16 and 35,552 in the most recent six months, according to NHS Digital’s latest quarterly figures for posts that health service organisations tried to fill by advertising them on NHS Jobs, the main website they use when seeking new recruits.

Labour blamed the government’s handling of the NHS for the rising number of unfilled posts and claimed that widespread workforce shortages were compromising the safety and quality of care.

“The government’s total mismanagement of the NHS workforce has left huge numbers of posts unfilled and unacceptably puts patients at risk. A series of poor decisions from unfair pay restraint, cuts and incompetence from ministers have created these enormous staffing shortages,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

“The cuts to bursaries [for trainee nurses and midwives] have driven down the numbers of students applying for health degrees while the government’s chaotic handling of Brexit has put off increasing numbers of desperately needed medical staff from coming to the UK to care for our sick and elderly,” he added.

Janet Davies, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It’s very worrying that the number of vacant posts for nurses and midwives has increased more than those for any other type of clinical staff, with almost 35,000 vacant posts for nurses and midwives advertised in the first three months of this year, an increase of 1,800 on the previous year.”

“They bear out what patients, their families and our own surveys repeatedly tell us – that there just aren’t enough nurses to provide safe care. But with the number of applications to nursing degree courses having dropped by almost third in the two years since the government removed funding for nursing students, the serious risk is that we will soon see fewer nurses on wards and in the community, not more,” she added.

NHS Digital’s figures showed that 87,478 vacancies were advertised in the NHS between January and March this year. In March alone some 28,998 posts were advertised, though that was down on the 30,613 NHS bodies sought to fill in the same month a year earlier. Among the vacancies in March 40% were for nurses and midwives and 21% for administrative and clerical staff.

NHS Improvement, the health service’s financial regulator, disclosed in May that the NHS in England as a whole was operating short of almost 93,000 staff during 2017-18. That meant that one in 12 of all posts were unfilled, an 8% vacancy rate.

The NHS was short of 35,794 nurses and 9,982 doctors, it said.

NHSI said the widespread lack of key staff was not putting patient safety at risk because 95% of rota gaps in nursing and 98% in medicine were filled by temporary workers. However, key NHS staff organisations, including the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Physicians have warned that shortages are worsening and are hitting the quality of care patients receive.

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