This morning, citizens across the UK are waking up to the frontpage news that the NHS staffing crisis in England is at its worst point in history.
According to the latest report from the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee (HCSC), the large number of unfilled NHS clinical job vacancies is posing a serious risk to patient safety. Estimates from Nuffield Health suggest vacancies in England are higher than previously estimated, with a shortage of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives. What can be done? This article outlines the latest analysis on the UK healthcare staffing crisis from Remedium’s CEO, David Green.
NHS staffing crisis: A shortage of 12,000 hospital doctors
At Remedium, we are on a mission to solve the healthcare staffing crisis. Since our inception in 2013, we’ve been championing the recruitment of permanent healthcare professionals as opposed to expensive agency locums. Due to our award-winning approach, we’ve placed over 3,000 doctors in the NHS on permanent contracts, which has saved the NHS over £300million in excess agency locum spend.
At the centre of all these issues is the NHS staffing crisis. We’ve simply not trained enough doctors in the UK to meet healthcare demand. Ultimately, increasing international recruitment of permanent clinicians is the only way to address the current clinical staffing shortages and to build a sustainable NHS workforce for the future, particularly in the short term.
An unsustainable recruitment model for the future
Today’s report suggests that there is currently a shortage of 12,000 hospital doctors across the service. However this number is set to grow, with the pandemic having put greater pressure on a healthcare service already in crisis. In the UK, we’re facing the healthcare challenge of an aging population and an increased disease burden. Additionally, many doctors are choosing to leave early or seek employment in other countries. According to a recent report from the BMA, future doctor shortages could be as high as 83,779 by 2043. The NHS staffing crisis is set to go from bad to worse.
A short and long-term workforce plan is needed
Simply put, we do not have enough doctors and healthcare professionals to meet healthcare demand right now. The healthcare staffing crisis is already in full swing. Therefore, in the short-term, we must increase the number of medical staff in the NHS workforce to address these issues. The only sustainable way to plug this gap in the short term is to recruit ethically from overseas.
Historically, there has been an inconsistent approach to workforce planning across the NHS and more must be done to address not only current clinical staffing challenges but also to plan for the future. In practice, this means that NHS governing bodies must begin by modelling future workforce demands across all specialties based on what existing service and future services will look like.
However, as it stands there appears to have been no real planning for this uncertain future and the number of students training to become doctors in the UK is far lower than what is required. According to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) the number of medical school places needs to double from 7,500 to 15,000 per year to meet healthcare demand. Remedium supports the call to increase the number of medical school places for trainee doctors in the UK. However, even if trainee numbers were increased today, this wouldn’t have any impact for at least a decade. In the interim, we need to find a different solution.
Improving The Retention of Healthcare Professionals by Recruiting Now
While our focus remains primarily on the recruitment of permanent doctors, it is the national shortage of nurses, allied health professionals and clinicians that contributes greatly to burnout. The healthcare staffing crisis means our existing NHS doctors are, on average, asked to do the work of 1.3 FTE (full-time equivalent) doctors. Continually asking the clinical workforce to do more than their fair share inevitably leads to burnout, which leads to many staff leaving. How then, can we improve workforce retention if we do not first address these chronic shortages in the multidisciplinary teams in which they work?
It is for this reason that Remedium advocate for a ‘recruitment first’ approach to retention. If NHS Trusts begin by filling these huge vacancy gaps by recruiting more permanent clinicians, nurses and allied health professionals, this will already reduce the excessive workload placed on all clinical staff across the service. Once this is achieved, more appropriate job planning and addressing workplace cultural issues, such as introducing more effective multidisciplinary team working, would also contribute significantly to improving consultants’ ability to do their jobs effectively in the longer-term.
International Permanent Medical Recruitment to Alleviate the NHS Staffing Crisis
Ultimately, in order to address NHS workforce shortages in the short to medium-term, NHS trusts must recruit international healthcare professionals in order to plug the gap nationwide. Remedium are already supporting NHS Trusts across the country to do this, which is helping to relieve the burden on their existing teams; contributing to better staff retention rates and to more efficient, patient centred care. But we must urgently recruit more and fast if we are to plug the 12,000 strong staffing gap.
In the long-term, systemic workforce issues that are contributing the NHS-wide healthcare staffing crisis must be addressed on a national policy level, or else the problem will only continue to manifest. Remedium are already supporting some NHS Trusts to do this through our strategic workforce planning service, but in the long run, it is vital that these changes come centrally and from the top.
At Remedium, we care deeply about the future of our NHS and we know we’re supporting our clients to address a complex and multifaceted problem. That’s why we are dedicated to solving the healthcare staffing crisis in the UK. Click here to contact our client service team and to find out more about how we’re supporting the NHS to move towards a more sustainable and long-term workforce recruitment model.