New vacancy figures lay bare the scale of the problem faced by the health serviceby Anita Charlesworth / August 2, 2017 / Leave a comment
Poor workforce planning has long been the Achilles heel of the NHS in England. The UK spends close to the European average on health, at almost 10 per cent of GDP, but we have fewer doctors and nurses per head of population than comparable countries.
Over recent years the number of doctors working in the NHS has increased rapidly. There were 20 per cent more full time equivalent consultants in the NHS in 2016 than in 2010. But the number of nurses has not kept pace—increasing by just 1 per cent over the same six years. When you factor in population growth, this does not bode well for the future of the health service. When you factor in Brexit, the picture looks even more grave.
While money worries have dogged the NHS in recent years, staff shortages are fast overtaking money as the main concern of NHS leaders (though of course the two are linked). Last week saw the publication of data suggesting a significant increase in the number of vacancies across the NHS. The vital signs for the NHS workforce are not good and nurse staffing in particular looks to be flashing for urgent and significant attention.
The NHS is short of around 30,000 nurses, and 49 per cent of NHS nurses say they don’t think there are enough staff for them to do their job properly. This matters for individual patient care but also the overall efficiency of the NHS. The Health Foundation’s research found a clear association between consultant productivity and nurse numbers. It’s an obvious point but health care is delivered by a team. Rapidly increasing doctor numbers without ensuring that there is a full complement of the whole patient care team is a classic, if depressing, example of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
Around one in 10 nursing posts was vacant in 2016—double the number in 2012. Based on current training plans and trends in staff leaving the service, the NHS will still be short of 16,000 nurses in 2021.
In the past, England has relied on international recruitment as a “get out of jail free card” to avoid the consequences of these workforce policy failures. But the outlook for international recruitment means that the government may have run out of cards. Nurse workforce shortages are not…