Earlier this week, the government announced that the NHS is set to receive an extra £5.9bn in funding on top of the extra £12bn that was announced earlier this year.
The NHS hospital system in England is at breaking point with over five million people waiting for care. Hundreds of thousands of people have been on waiting lists for over a year. The extra funding will be used to clear the significant backlog of people waiting for tests and scans which was caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are also allowances to buy new equipment and improve I.T systems. But what use is new equipment and upgraded technology if there isn’t enough staff to use it?
Leading health experts welcomed the pledge, however, they warned it would not solve the problem of staff shortages. This leads on to the question, what can be done about the staff shortage in the healthcare sector?
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NHS as a whole is increasing spending on staffing. However, more needs to be done to address current shortages and improve staff morale.
Staffing shortages are leading to low morale among existing staff, which could result in them looking to other sectors for employment. A recent report by NHS Digital revealed that the number of unfilled posts had risen significantly in recent years.
When it comes to protecting patients in the NHS, the need for the correct staffing levels is critical. Studies show that low nurse-to-patient ratios are associated with higher rates of falls and death.
Latest data from the NHS reveals that an increase of over 27,000 full-time qualified staff started working for the NHS in September 2020, a rise of more than 4% from the previous year. Figures from the Nuffield Trust show that university applications for healthcare related courses have shown an increase, too. Despite an increase in people joining the NHS and starting healthcare related courses, the challenges of ensuring high completion rates and recruitment into the healthcare sector is a problem.
So, how can we address the staffing problem in the healthcare sector?
Increasing staff retention
Reducing the shortage of healthcare staff will largely rely on the sector’s ability to retain their current workforce. To ensure staff can learn and progress in their career, measures like allocating more resources into workforce development must be taken. Offering flexible working hours and promoting a healthy work life balance are other measures healthcare companies should consider in an effort to increase staff retention levels. Changing the culture in healthcare workplaces should be another top priority of companies operating in the sector. The NHS is committed to improving staff retention by more than 2% by 2025. Maintaining a strong employer brand is a great strategy to increase productivity and retention amongst your current workforce.
One of the ways healthcare companies and the NHS are immediately addressing the shortage of staff is global healthcare recruitment. Recruiting highly skilled people from overseas can have an almost instant impact on reducing staff shortages in the sector. Changes to immigration rules in 2018 which exempted doctors and nurses from the immigration cap have facilitated more efficient routes for healthcare professionals from overseas to be employed in the UK.
More university places
To ensure a sustainable growth of people available to work in the healthcare sector, more university places must be made available. The main source of new nurses come from universities, with an average of two applications available per available course. It is clear that something must be done to facilitate the development of everyone who wants to work in the healthcare sector. The NHS is taking action by setting up more training courses and partnering with universities to ensure supply meets the demand.