Every year, the NHS workforce must evolve to meet the needs of the UK population and in this respect, 2023 is already off to an eventful start. Factors including demographic changes, the political climate, public health and budgetary constraints all have a major impact on the health service and its clinical workforce. In this article, we make some predictions about what we think lies in store for the NHS workforce in 2023.
Prediction 1: The NHS will face its most challenging winter yet
Every new year is a challenging time for the NHS workforce, given winter pressures, but winter 2023 will be more difficult than most. As ongoing strikes across the public sector continue, industrial action from nurses, paramedics and healthcare professionals will strike at the heart of the NHS. At Remedium, we sincerely believe that all healthcare professionals should be paid in line with the importance of their work, and we sincerely hope these issues can be resolved. Through staff absence, these strikes will highlight the incredible tenacity of each individual NHS worker in delivering safe and quality care to patients. Therefore, we predict and hope that strikes will lead to a newfound emphasis on looking after and valuing the NHS workforce.
Prediction 2: More international permanent doctors will join the NHS workforce than ever before
The current number of doctors in the UK is short of the numbers required for the NHS workforce right now, let alone for the future. According to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) the number of medical school places needs to double to meet increasing demand. However, even if the UK were to begin training enough doctors today, it would take around 10 years for them to be qualified. In the interim, we must hire more international doctors on permanent contracts to plug the gap.
In June 2022, of the 125,741 full-time equivalent (FTE) doctors in the NHS workforce in England whose nationality was known, just over a third were from overseas. This is up from around a quarter in June 2016, and is the highest proportion since data collection began in 2009. In 2023, we predict that this proportion will jump even higher, with the NHS workforce hiring even more international doctors on permanent and fixed term contracts than ever before to plug the vacancy gap.
Prediction 3: NHS agency locum use will come under more scrutiny
In recent months, we’ve noticed a rise in negative media coverage with regards to excessive agency locum use (for example, NHS crisis pays off for locum firm and its £1m chief, Junior doctors brag about locum earnings on TikTok, and Hospitals paying up to £5,200 a day for locum doctor shifts).
Many NHS Trusts rely on agency locums as a short-term solution to their staffing issues. However, their excessive use for routine services exacerbates the problem in the long term and is an inappropriate use of public funds. In addition to being extremely cost intensive, research shows that locums’ lack of familiarity with local teams, processes and practices negatively impact patient care. Many Trusts we speak to tell us how they’re stuck in the agency locum bind when it comes to filling gaps in their NHS workforce rotas.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Moving towards a permanent NHS workforce model allows our clients to deliver more efficient patient care and, in 2022, they remained proactive in the face of the NHS workforce crisis. For example, Manchester Foundation Trust embarked on a recruitment trip to India with Remedium, and successfully hired 80 doctors who are now an integral part of their NHS workforce. Similarly, Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust ran an international project for hard-to-fill specialties and ended up hiring more doctors than initially intended. We already have a number of international recruitment projects lined up in 2023, including a mental health trip for specialty doctors in psychiatry. Follow us on social media to keep up to date on the progress of these international projects.
Prediction 4: The NHS workforce crisis will become a key priority
The latest NHS workforce vacancy statistics show that full-time equivalent (FTE) staff vacancies in NHS trusts in England increased from around 133,100 in the quarter to June 2022 to around 133,400 in the quarter to September 2022. This represents a 5-year high. Of this, the NHS workforce in England is currently short of an estimated 49,000 FTE (full-time equivalent) doctors, according to the BMA. Vacancies across NHS Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are comparably high.
Given the sheer number of vacancies and the length of time it takes to train new staff, it would simply be impossible to solve these NHS workforce issues in just one year. However, we remain hopeful and predict that the healthcare staffing crisis will become a key priority for government and NHS Trusts in 2023. In fact, when Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, set out his priorities for the year, one of his five promises was to tackle huge patient backlogs and waiting times. Chronic clinical understaffing is the major contributor to the patient backlog issue and so we predict that in 2023, we will finally see strategies implemented to start addressing the NHS workforce crisis.
NHS workforce crisis at a critical juncture in 2023
Overall, we believe that the NHS workforce is at a critical juncture in 2023. It’s simply not possible to continue as it has been, as evidenced by the industrial action taken by the incredible healthcare professionals who make up the NHS workforce and have given it so much. However, it’s not too late to put in the measures to address the NHS workforce crisis, both for the short term and the long term. We sincerely hope that in the shorter term, NHS Trusts will take the action required to stop excessive agency locum use and instead start plugging the gap with permanent doctors from overseas – the only sustainable short-term solution. In the longer term, we hope that Britain will start the work now to train and retain enough doctors to meet ever-rising healthcare demand in the future.
Do you agree with our NHS workforce predictions for 2023? Get in touch today and let us know your thoughts!