Theresa May has been accused of overseeing “an unprecedented workforce crisis in the NHS“ after it emerged staff vacancies have risen by more than 10 per cent in the last year, with tens of thousands of posts left unfilled.
Official figures revealed that in March this year there were 30,613 vacant full-time positions advertised by NHS England – up from 26,424 in the same month in 2016 and 26,406 in 2015.
Labour said the Prime Minister was taking health service staff for granted and warned that a repeat of last winter’s chaotic scenes, which saw A&E patients lined up on trolleys for hours, would be “simply intolerable”.
Nearly 40 per cent of the vacancies in March 2017 were for NHS nursing and midwifery positions, of which there were 11,485 adverts in total. The average nursing or midwifery role is only drawing three applications, the figures show.
Nurses said the true number of unfilled jobs is “far higher than the number of online adverts”, citing a figure of 40,000 in England alone, and warned patient safety is suffering as people are put off the profession by “low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs”.
“At the very moment the NHS needs to be recruiting more nursing staff, we learn the number is falling and the NHS finds itself advertising for more jobs we know it cannot fill,” said Ms Davies.
“A lethal cocktail of factors is resulting in too few nurses and patient care is suffering. The Government desperately needs to keep the experienced staff still working in the NHS.”
Nurses are threatening to strike for the first time in history over staff shortages and low pay, which has been subject to the Government’s 1 per cent public sector pay freeze since 2010.
But tensions are simmering among ministers over the pay cap, which has been attacked by the Government’s own experts. The senior civil servants’ union, the FDA, said the policy, in place until 2020, meant the UK’s ability to fill jobs in teaching and the health service “could deteriorate rapidly”.
Ms May has defended the pay freeze despite senior cabinet ministers calling for it to lifted to ease pressures faced by public sector workers, with Downing Street saying the Government would consider potential wage increases for nurses, police officers and firefighters on a “case by case” basis.
The latest data was collected from NHS Jobs, the main recruitment website for the NHS. Between January 2017 and March 2017, a total of 86,055 vacancies were advertised, up from 78,112 in the first quarter of 2016.
Health trust bosses now consider the issue of recruitment and retention of NHS staff to be “as serious as concerns over funding,” Phillippa Hentsch, head of analysis at NHS Providers, told The Independent.
“Tough language tests, and the uncertainty that Brexit has created for current and potential EU staff” has contributed to this, she said. “We are also seeing the impact of pay cap, prompting staff to seek work elsewhere.
“Trusts will do all they can to ensure safe care for patients, but where they can not recruit to roles they may be forced to rely on expensive agency staff, or stop services altogether. Both of these options are unsustainable in the long term.”
Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, said: “For years the Tories have taken NHS staff for granted and asked them to do more for less, resulting in a recruitment and retention crisis which threatens patient care on a daily basis.”
January 2017 was the worst month on record for hospital A&E departments, with more patients than ever waiting four hours to be seen – and Mr Madders warned if action is not taken, this winter could be even worse.
That month, nearly 80,000 seriously ill patients spent more than four hours waiting on trolleys to be treated after being admitted to A&E, with an unprecedented 988 patients waiting on trolleys for longer than 12 hours.
“Frankly, the Government’s solution of hiring expensive agency staff or asking hard-pressed existing staff to cover extra shifts is not in the best of interests of patients or medical professionals,” said Mr Madders.
“The public is under no illusions: a repeat of last winter’s crisis is simply intolerable and Theresa May must now take urgent action to secure a sustainable workforce in our NHS.”
The Department of Health did not address concerns over vacancies directly in its official response to the figures, instead focussing on the numbers of new staff that have joined the health service in recent years, not how many may have left.
“Staffing is a priority – that’s why we have invested in the frontline and there are almost 32,400 more professionally qualified clinical staff including almost 11,800 more doctors, and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards since May 2010,” said a department spokesperson.
But Mr Madders hit back at this, saying: “Jeremy Hunt’s flagrant denial of the extent of this workforce crisis is a damning indictment of his and the Government’s failure.”
Campaign group Keep Our NHS Public also said the Government’s response “doesn’t address this massive, increasing and rapidly unsafe problem”, adding the NHS is “falling apart, post by vacant post and budget deficit after deficit”.
The British Medical Association (BMA) added that doctors were “struggling with unsustainable workloads” to try and fill gaps caused by staff shortages.
“Across many parts of the NHS, recruitment and retention problems are leaving staff and services thinly stretched and affecting patients’ access to care,“ said Dr Andrew Dearden, the BMA’s treasurer.
UK news in pictures
5 November 2017
Protesters in Trafalgar Square, London, during the Million Mask March bonfire night protest
4 November 2017
Protestors take part in the ‘Justice Now: Make it Right for Palestine’ march, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in central London
3 November 2017
People queue outside an Apple store in London to purchase the new iPhone X upon its release in the U.K. The iPhone X is positioned as a high-end, model intended to showcase advanced technologies such as wireless charging, OLED display, dual cameras and a face recognition unlock system
2 November 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in London. The pair are today celebrating the centenary of a British declaration that ultimately led to the foundation of the state of Israel
1 November 2017
Mammatus clouds over St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, Northumberland
31 October 2017
Women protest outside Downing Street as they join a demonstration demanding rights for working mothers
30 October 2017
England’s under 17’s pose with the World Cup trophy as they arrive back to the UK
29 October 2017
Leicester City remembrance day fixture between between Leicester City and Everton at King Power Stadium
Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images
27 October 2017
Spiderman steals a seat on the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones at MCM London Comic Con’s opening day
26 October 2017
British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood holds up a paper against the governments policy on fracking outside Downing Street in London
24 October 2017
Members of a delegation of indigenous and rural community leaders from 14 countries in Latin America and Indonesia, The Guardians of the Forest campaign, demonstrate against deforestation in London during a stop on their way to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties 23 (COP 23) in Bonn, Germany
23 October 2017
Gemma Davis, 23, cleans the dolls’ house during it’s annual clean at the National Trust’s Calke Abbey property, in Ticknall, Derbyshire. The dolls’ house was used by the family’s various generations of children between 1860 and the Second World War in their school room
18 October 2017
Prince William and Kate chat with West Ham player Mark Noble and manager Slaven Bilic during the Coach Core graduation ceremony
17 October 2017
Jellyfish washed up on Sidmouth beach after storm Ophelia hit the UK
16 October 2017
A red sun appears in Mid-Wales before storm Ophelia hits
Paul Williams / Alamy Live News
15 October 2017
The Duchess of Cambridge dances with Paddington Bear as they attend a charities forum event at Paddington train station in London on October 16, 2017. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry joined children from the charities they support on board Belmond British Pullman train at Paddington Station. The event was hosted by STUDIOCANAL, with support from BAFTA through its BAFTA Kids programme, and before embarking Their Royal Highnesses met the cast and crew from the forthcoming film Paddington 2
15 October 2017
Large waves crash along sea defences and the harbour as storm Ophelia approaches Porthleven in Cornwall, south west Britain
14 October 2017
Hillary Clinton gives a speech as she is presented with a Honorary Doctorate of Law at Swansea University in Swansea, Wales. The former US secretary of state and 2016 American presidential candidate is also visiting the UK to promote her new book, ‘What Happened’
13 October 2017
A lone protestor demonstrates outside Workmen Cuadrilla’s shale gas fracking drilling rig near Westby in Blackpool. Engineers have begun to build the new rig at the site off Preston New Road in preparation for extracting gas. The site will be the first in the UK to extract shale gas since 2011
11 October 2017
Photographs of missing Syrians are displayed as people, including a group of Syrian women, stand atop a double-decker bus during a demonstration by ‘Families for Freedom’ in Parliament Square in London
9 October 2017
Workmen erect scaffolding around the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known called Big Ben, during ongoing renovations to the Tower and the Houses of Parliament
6 October 2017
An order of service is carried ahead of the funeral service for Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn, real name Sylvia Ann Ibbetson, outside Salford Cathedral. A former Woolworths shop girl from Leeds, who first set foot on Weatherfield’s famous cobbles in 1974, Dawn, who had four children, died peacefully last week at home with her family around her.
5 October 2017
Melanie Kramers of Oxfam poses while wearing a mask of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with assorted props used in political campaigns, in the store room at Oxfam’s headquarters in London. The props have all been used in the charity’s campaigns over the years to raise awareness of issues affecting people in poverty. Today marks 75 years since Oxfam’s founding in the middle of the Second World War
4 October 2017
A visitor poses in front of an art work by Czech Repblic artist Anna Hulacova entitled ‘Ascension Mark I’ during a photocall for the Frieze Art Fair in London
2 October 2017
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond arrives to speak at the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester
1 October 2017
Protesters holding flags and placards demonstrate along Oxford Street during the annual Ashura march in London. Thousands of protesters march through London today to mark Ashura and celebrate the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Ashura is a Muslim festival of remembrance that falls on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar
30 September 2017
Protesters hold up placards during the London March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after the referendum announcement, outside the Embassy of Ireland in central London
Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP
29 September 2017
Former UKIP leader Paul Nuttall (C) speaks with delegates at the UKIP annual conference being held at the The Riviera International Centre in Torquay
27 September 2017
England and West Indies fans enjoy themselves during the 4th Royal London One Day International between England and West Indies at The Kia Oval in London
26 September 2017
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn takes photographs during Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey’s speech in the main hall, on day three of the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
24 September 2017
Naked bathers enter the water as they take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge bay in Druridge, England. The popular annual event takes place around the autumn equinox at Druridge Bay as the sun rises. Participant registration fees have been pledged to the mental health charity MIND.
23 September 2017
Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain (R) conducts a ceremony as druids, pagans and revellers gather in the centre at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a autumn equinox celebrations at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury in Wiltshire, England. Several hundred people gathered at sunrise ar the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument, to celebrate the equinox which is a specific moment in time that occurs twice a year when the Earth tilts neither towards (summer) or away (winter) from the sun in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Although yesterday marked the actual meteorological calendar change from summer to autumn, for druids, the following dawn is when they celebrate ‘the dawning of the new season’ following the day of equal night, which it is named after.
22 September 2017
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her Brexit speech at the Complesso Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to unlock Brexit talks on September 22, after Brussels demanded more clarity on the crunch issues of budget payments and EU citizens’ rights
21 September 2017
People protest against the actions of the Spanish government in front of the Spanish consulate in Edinburgh. Spanish police stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia’s regional government yesterday, in an attempt to try and put a stop to the region’s independence referendum
20 September 2017
One of the final 55m turbine blades is manoeuvred into position. The last of 116 wind turbines have been installed at the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm 13 kms off the Brighton Coast. It will provide enough electricity to supply the equivalent of half the homes in Sussex
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
16 September 2017
An armed police officer patrols in Horse Guards Parade in London. An 18-year-old man has been arrested in Dover in connection with yesterday’s terror attack on Parsons Green station in which 30 people were injured. The UK terror threat level has been raised to ‘critical’
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
13 September 2017
Demonstrators hold banners during a protest to lobby MPs to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, after Brexit, outside the Houses of Parliament
12 September 2017
Rupert van der Werff, Summer Place Auctions’ Natural History specialist, moves a one-year-old baby mammoth skeleton at Summers Place Auctions on September 12, 2017 in Billingshurst. A family of four mammoths, found together during building works near the Siberian city of Tomsk in 2002, will be on sale on November 21, 2017, and are expected to sell in the region of £ 250,000 – 400,000
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
11 September 2017
Members of the Royal Navy carry supplies on board the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean at the Naval Base in Gibraltar before leaving to provide humanitarian assistance and vital aid to British Overseas Territories and Commonwealth partners affected by Hurricane Irma. Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since the disaster
JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images
10 September 2017
His Holiness The Dalai Lama holds the hand of Richard Moore as he gives a public talk on the theme of ‘Compassion in Action’ to celebrate 20 years of the Children in Crossfire initiative in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The Dalai Lama is the patron of the Children in Crossfire charity which was founded by Richard Moore. Mr Moore was blinded by a plastic bullet fired by a British Soldier during the Troubles in Derry.
The new figures come as England’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals warned that Brexit poses a “threat” to the NHS workforce, as the health service struggles to recruit enough nurses, doctors and support staff from EU countries.
Professor Sir Mike Richards told the BBC there is “no doubt that the workforce of the NHS and indeed the care system generally is absolutely critical and we do need to have more staff”.
But he said: “If we are leaving the EU there is a threat to that, which we need to make sure is being dealt with so that we are not losing staff and we can then replace them if necessary to grow our own, if you like.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The NHS is finding it harder and harder to recruit the staff it needs, yet still this Government is refusing to end years of cuts to pay.”
Commenting on the figures, Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the removal of the Government’s 1 per cent cap on public sector pay rises was long overdue.
He said: “Removing the pay cap on NHS staff, particularly the lowest paid, is long overdue, while the extra pressure on overworked front-line staff to meet targets must be eased.
“This data shows it is high time we saw steps taken to stop disincentivising staff – salaries must be fair, working conditions must be safe and sustainable and clear career pathways must be in place.”
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