Staff shortages in the NHS are a constant concern for people, both for those working within healthcare and those who rely on NHS services. The NHS constantly faces issues related to both the recruitment and retention of staff, with a 2016 survey from the NHS Employers organisation finding that 93% of Trusts had a shortage of nursing staff.
It is worth mentioning, however, that nursing agencies have filled the gap here by providing the NHS with nurses when they have had trouble finding permanent staff. This, in turn, means that the number of nurses employed in the NHS has actually increased.
One key area where shortages are having a real impact is within mental health. As a 2016 Guardian article notes, in some areas, over 10% of children with mental health issues are having appointments with specialists cancelled due to shortages of staff.
Why is there a nursing staff shortage in the NHS?
There are a number of reasons why the NHS continues to face staff shortages. Firstly, as Anita Charlesworth, at the Health Foundation think tank, argues in a recent BBC article that staff shortages are partly due less nurses being trained than are needed by the NHS, with the overseas recruitment of nursing staff providing just a quick fix – but not really solving the underlying problem.
Secondly, it is due to the difficulty in predicting health trends. With the wide range of different healthcare specialties that are needed in order to provide care to patients, it is hard to predict which will be needed in future. Certain diseases may become more or less common, meaning that it is difficult to determine where to put funding for staff in these areas.
Thirdly, many argue that shortages are due to government money saving. As a recent BBC report suggests, NHS wage caps and restraints – such as limiting pay rises to 1% in a year to 2019 – are causing problems with retaining NHS staff.
Unfortunately, this issue may only get worse when the implications of Brexit become clear. As a recent policy report estimates, around 7% of nurses working in the NHS in England are nationals of other EU countries. Brexit may, therefore, make NHS recruitment even more difficult, with a report by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) suggesting that there could be a shortfall of 42,000 nurses.