NHS staff vacancies endangering patients, says report

A new report from the NHS Confederation shows the staffing pressures on the health service and calls for extra funding for social care.

Tired nurse wears face mask blue uniform gloves sits on hospital floor. Essential worker feels burnout stress of corona virus frontline


The pressure on the NHS is now at unsustainable levels and patient safety and care are being put at risk by staff shortages, according to a poll by the NHS Confederation.

The poll of NHS leaders in England suggests the service has reached “a tipping point”, with nearly nine in 10 (88%) saying the demands on their organisation are unsustainable. Almost the same number (87%) say that a lack of staffing in the NHS as a whole is putting patient safety and care at risk.

The poll comes as official figures show more than 5.8 million patients were waiting for routine surgery by the NHS in England by the end of September and as Government analysis shows that the plan to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for NHS frontline workers by April could see 123,000 staff leaving the health and social care sectors. An impact assessment estimates that around 88,000 health workers, including 73,000 NHS staff, are likely to remain unvaccinated, alongside 35,000 social care workers which “may lead to reduced or delayed services”. The analysis indicates that the numbers of staff likely to be persuaded into vaccination by the threat of compulsion may be dwarfed by the numbers who leave.

The NHS Confederation survey of leaders across hospitals, ambulance services, mental health providers, community services, primary care and integrated care systems shows the greatest areas of concern are primary care and urgent and emergency care. This is on top of mounting pressure on GPs and other parts of primary care, as well as mental health and community services.

When asked what one measure would help reduce pressure on the NHS as we head into winter, the most endorsed recommendation from NHS leaders is for the Government to provide extra support for social care. They recommend this be targeted at ensuring effective discharge arrangements are in place so that people can live more independently in care homes or in their own homes. This comes as reports that one in five beds in some hospitals are currently being occupied by patients who are medically fit to be discharged, but for whom there is no care package available so that they can leave hospital.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:“The number one measure that Ministers could take now is to provide extra funding and support to social care services. This includes making more money available to increase the wages of care assistants to help fill staffing vacancies and to increase their fuel duty allowance so that more care staff are persuaded back into the sector.

“We welcomed the government’s recent extra investment in the NHS, but we cannot immediately buy our way out of this potential crisis due to the 90,000 plus vacancies we are carrying in the NHS. That means it would be better to allocate more immediate funding from the recent funding settlement to social care services as boosting the numbers of care staff will have much greater impact on reducing pressures on hospitals and other parts of the NHS.”

Meanwhile, a poll of 160 HR leaders by Willis Towers Watson found that 77 per cent have had problems with recruitment and retention. Just 2 per cent said they had no problems and 19 per cent said they anticipated problems in the future. Seventy-six per cent said employees were leaving because they felt they would find better pay elsewhere and 64 per cent said the problem was a perceived lack of career opportunities in their current organisation.

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