Workforce pressures presenting highest internal risk for NHS trusts this winter, NHS England says

Staff availability during the winter months is presenting the highest internal risk to trusts, NHS England has said.

Board papers discussed at NHS England’s board meeting today detailed how it will cope with surging demand on health providers over the coming months, and highlighted shortages in nurse and social care staff availability as one of the key limitations for the health service’s performance over winter.

In October NHS Providers said there are “clear warning signs” that the coming winter will be even worse for NHS trusts than last year, and that growing staff shortages— to which there were 42,000 vacancies in provider organisations in 2018-19— are putting additional strain on a workforce “already overstretched” service.

These fears were compounded earlier this month when NHS Employers raised concerns about the impact of new border control rules brought in by Brexit will “cut off the supply” of nurses and healthcare staff members from overseas; and a briefing published by the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation, and the Nuffield Trust ranked the health service’s staffing challenges as a bigger threat to the future of the NHS than cuts to funding.

Today, an NHS England document said workforce availability is the “principal internal risk” this winter.

“We are now focusing on supporting hospitals in parts of the country where fewer ED consultants are willing to work,” the document read.

“Overall, the ability to further expand hospital bed capacity and community intermediate care capacity is constrained by nurse and social care staff availability. Workforce availability represents the NHS’s principal internal operational risk this winter.”

Despite some of the vacancy demand gap being mitigated through the use of bank and agency staff, NHS Improvement has launched a support programme to partner with NHS providers to minimise vacancy rates, as well as a programme launched in July 2017 to improve staff retention and bring down leaver rates by 2020.

Earlier this month the BMA warned that NHS emergency care services are struggling to cope with a “year-round crisis” which is damaging patient care.

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