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NHS nursing shortages risk becoming a ‘national emergency’

The number of NHS vacancies have risen by almost 10% in the first quarter of this year and are expected to continue rising with experts warning that “widespread and growing nursing shortages now risk becoming a national emergency.”

NHS Improvement’s quarterly performance report showed that in England there were 107,743 NHS vacancies at the end of June, up from 98,475 back in March which bucks the downward trend seen over the past year.

The regulator has published the latest figures for the April to June period, showing over 40,000 nursing vacancies in total.

Independent think tank The King’s Fund released a statement, saying that the nursing shortages are “symptomatic of a long-term failure in workforce planning, which has been exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and short-sighted immigration policies.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund, added: “The right to start treatment within 18 weeks is enshrined in the NHS Constitution, yet three and half thousand people have now been on hospital waiting lists for more than a year and waiting lists stand at their highest levels in over a decade.

“This is unacceptable and the review of waiting time targets currently underway must ensure that patients not treated within initial time limits are protected from lengthy waits for treatment.”

Around 1.1 million full and part-time staff are currently employed by the NHS, according to figures from NHS Improvement, with 9.2% of all posts not filled.

Between April and June NHS trusts spent £805m on bank staff, £102m more than planned, and an additional £599m on agency staff, £32m over budget.

Anandaciva added: “With hospitals and other NHS providers once again forecasting a significant end-of-year deficit, it is clear that the NHS finance regime is broken, with financial targets routinely missed and huge financial problems in some NHS organisations offset by surpluses in others.

“Today’s report is a reminder that the forthcoming NHS long-term plan must focus on reform and investment in new ways of delivering services otherwise the NHS will be trapped in a perpetual winter crisis.”

Responding to the Q1 financial and performance report, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “NHS trusts are doing all they can to respond to a triple challenge of rapidly increasing demand, growing workforce shortages and continuing pressure on NHS finances.

"But however hard they run, they don’t seem able to outpace the increase in demand.

"Trusts tell us they are most worried about the workforce shortages they face, and it’s a real concern that these figures have shown such a big increase in vacancy levels. It’s worrying that this problem is getting worse rather than better.”

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Image credit - sturti


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