NHS staffing in England crisis deepens

NHS staffing in England crisis deepens

NHS Digital’s figures showed that 87,478 vacancies were advertised between January and March this year.

Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

The NHS in England is facing a worsening staffing crisis as hospitals report increasing shortages of doctors and nurses, and therapists and midwives, NHS Digital statistics have revealed.

According to the latest NHS Vacancy Statistics England figures, vacancies for those key groups of health professionals across the NHS in England stand at the highest level yet since records began in 2015.

It has been revealed that between October 2017 and March 2018, NHS care providers tried to recruit 69,408 nurses and midwives. For these providers – mainly consisting of hospital trusts – that constitutes a sizeable increase on figures for the same six-month period in 2016-17, at 64,127. It’s also a massive jump on the vacancy figures on same six months in 2015-16, when the number of vacancies for nurses and midwives stood at 57,964. An increase of over 11,000 in just two years clearly suggests that the term ‘staffing crisis’ is an apt one to use when it comes to NHS England.

Vacancies for doctors, dentists and allied professionals rise

The number of vacancies for doctors and dentists have also increased across the NHS in England. Figures for October 2015-March 2016 stood at 18,105. The number of vacancies in the same six-month period to March 2018 was 20,339. However, it should be noted that this represents a fall from the previous year, when the figure was 21,278.

The trend for a vacancies to rise has been seen in other key areas of the NHS. Vacancies for healthcare scientists rose from 3,109 in 2015-16 to 4,044. Similarly, the number of NHS vacancies for allied health professionals – a group that includes the likes of occupational therapists and physiotherapists – rose for the same six-month period in 2015-16 (16,159) to 18,328.

In fact, the only category that has not seen a significant increase in vacancies is the administrative and clerical group. They have risen only slightly, from 35,465 in 2015-16 to 35, 552.

Concerns have been expressed by a range of organisations – from the Labour Party to the Royal College of Nursing – about the government’s handling of the NHS. Labour point to the cuts in bursaries for trainee nurses and midwives, pay restraint and the uncertainty caused by the government’s handling of Brexit – deterring much-needed medical professionals from abroad from moving to the UK.

The Royal College of Nursing echoed the Labour Party by claiming that the latest NHS Digital figures bear out what patients, their families and NHS staff have said in various surveys – that staffing levels for nurses and midwives are simply not high enough to provide safe care. It’s a situation that many fear could worsen still. Since the government removed bursaries for trainee nurses, the number of applications for nursing degree course have fallen by almost a third in the space of two years.

However, NHS Improvement, the NHS’ financial regulator, revealed in May that the NHS as whole in England was operating with an overall staff shortage of 93,000 during 2017-18 – an 8% vacancy rate. It should be noted that 95% of nursing rota gaps and 98% in medicine rota gaps are filled by temporary workers.