Over 800,000 clinical staff work in the NHS. Managing the supply of these staff effectively is vitally important as it involves frontline staff—doctors, nurses and others directly involved in treating and caring for patients. However, the extent of staffing gaps in the NHS indicates that the supply of staff is not meeting demand. In 2014, there was an overall shortfall of around 5.9% between the number of clinical staff that healthcare providers said they needed and the number of staff in post, equating to a gap of around 50,000 staff. This undersupply of staff inhibits trusts’ ability to provide services efficiently and effectively, and could lead to longer waiting times for treatment and shortcomings in the quality of care.
In recent years, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts have focused on reducing staff costs in order to meet efficiency targets. This has led to them consistently understating how many staff they will need and resulted in gaps in staffing. At the same time, trusts had to ensure they had enough nurses in light of the failings in care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the publication of safe staffing guidelines. Trusts met their need for more staff, in part, by using more costly agency staff; thereby increasing the financial pressure on the NHS. The Department of Health and its arm’s-length bodies have provided ineffective leadership and support, giving trusts conflicting messages about how to balance safe staffing with the need to make efficiency savings. In addition, overseas recruitment and return-to-practice initiatives, which could help address current shortfalls, have been poorly coordinated. The national bodies need to get a better grip on the supply of clinical staff in order to address current and future workforce pressures.
5 May 2016