NHS trusts could face an ‘operational challenge’ if the number of staff vacancies continues to rise throughout the rest of the financial year, NHS Improvement has said.
Financial and performance figures for trusts published by the NHS arms-length body yesterday showed that while the health service employs 1.1 million whole-time equivalent staff, it also has around 108,000 vacancies.
Despite a downward trend in 2017/18, the number of vacancies rose during the first quarter of 2018/19.
The report said: ‘Clearly every unfilled shift poses an operational challenge on the front line, so NHS Improvement is supporting trusts to improve the retention of staff and share case studies of best practice as part of the focus on reducing temporary staffing.’
The report also confirmed that NHS providers face an underlying deficit equal to £4.3bn, which will be explored further in the NHS long-term plan, to be set out this autumn.
Around 9,000 full-time employees left the NHS in just three months, between April and June, this year.
According to NHS Improvement this ‘is the result of both increasing demand and higher leaver rates for this period’.
At the end of June, there were:
- 41,722 nurse posts vacant, up from 35,794 the previous quarter;
- 11,576 medical vacancies, up from 9,982 the previous quarter;
- 54,445 vacancies listed as ‘other staff’, up from 52,698 the previous quarter.
A ‘national emergency’
Commenting on the figures, The King’s Fund chief analyst Siva Anandaciva said:
‘Widespread and growing nursing shortages now risk becoming a national emergency and are symptomatic of a long-term failure in workforce planning, which has been exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and short-sighted immigration policies.’
Figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in April showed that 3,962 people left their register between April 2017 and March 2018.
Meanwhile, only 805 EU nurses and midwives joined the register during the same period, compared with 6,382 the year before.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: ‘It’s worrying that this problem is getting worse rather than better.’
He added that trusts are approaching the organisation to tell them how concerned they are ‘about the workforce shortages they face’.