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COVID-19: ‘long and fraught’ recovery predicted as UK struggles with staff shortages

UK will take longer to recover than most comparable countries, says Nuffield Trust report
Nuffield Trust research

Nuffield Trust report suggests that the UK will take longer to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic than most comparable countries

Nurse shortages in the UK are likely to contribute to a slower recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic compared with similar countries, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the Nuffield Trust compared measures taken in response to COVID-19 by the NHS to those taken by 31 comparable countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain and the United States.

UK predicted to have a slower recovery despite similar COVID-19 strategies

The study looks at staffing, bed capacity and funding for equipment and buildings in the countries' healthcare systems.

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Nuffield Trust report suggests that the UK will take longer to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic than most comparable countries


Picture: PA

Nurse shortages in the UK are likely to contribute to a slower recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic compared with similar countries, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the Nuffield Trust compared measures taken in response to COVID-19 by the NHS to those taken by 31 comparable countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain and the United States. 

UK predicted to have a slower recovery despite similar COVID-19 strategies

The study looks at staffing, bed capacity and funding for equipment and buildings in the countries' healthcare systems.

'While the NHS has implemented similar strategies to many other countries, it is likely to have a slower path to recovery,' the report states.

'The UK went into the pandemic with higher bed occupancy rates and fewer doctors, nurses and capital assets than most other health systems, while also being more severely affected by the virus than most.'

The analysis shows that the UK had just 7.8 nurses per 1,000 inhabitants, grouping it next to Lithuania (7.8), the Czech Republic (8.1), and Russia (8.5), which puts it near the bottom third of the 31 countries.

There are an estimated 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone, according to the RCN.

'Long-standing issues', including workforce shortages, will complicate UK's COVID-19 recovery

The analysis also found the UK ranked in the bottom third when it came to capital spending, doctors per person, hospital beds per person and hospital bed occupancy.

Nuffield Trust senior research fellow and report author Sarah Reed said the pandemic had tested the resilience of even the most well-prepared health systems, but the relatively poor starting position of the NHS was likely to make the path to recovery 'long and fraught'.

'The NHS and its staff pulled out all the stops to react to the pandemic with impressive speed and resilience, avoiding the harrowing scenes in hospitals seen in other countries,' she said.

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'But in the face of our devastating outbreak, the long-standing issues with bed capacity and workforce shortages that have been with us long before COVID-19 will continue to slow the health service down compared with other systems in the race to recovery.'

Responding to the report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson defended the government’s response to the pandemic.

'The action we have taken ensured that the NHS was not overwhelmed, even at the virus’ peak, so everybody could get the best possible care,’ they said.

‘This report rightly notes the resilience, speed and hard work with which NHS staff responded to the pandemic and our NHS continues to mobilise like never before to deliver care in new ways to thousands more people.’

The spokesperson added that the government was acting to bolster the NHS this winter with £3 billion to support pressures on emergency care.

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