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NHS nurse shortages not solved by short-term private sector deal

Health service turns to independent providers for extra bed, surgery and diagnostics capacity as trusts in England grapple with continued surge in staff absence
A hospital run by Nuffield Health, one of a number of independent providers in deal to shore up NHS

COVD-related absence forces NHS to strike three-month surge capacity deal with private healthcare but does not conjure up answers to long-term nurse shortfall

Health leaders say the health service’s reliance on the private sector for capacity will do nothing to solve its staffing crisis.

NHS England and NHS Improvement has announced a three-month deal with independent providers to deliver diagnostics, cancer surgery and bed capacity as COVID-related staff absence reaches almost 40,000 at acute trusts in England.

Nurses are being asked to work on their rest days and cancel annual leave to fill unprecedented levels of staff absence.

    COVD-related absence forces NHS to strike three-month surge capacity deal with private healthcare but does not conjure up answers to long-term nurse shortfall

    A hospital run by Nuffield Health, one of a number of independent providers in deal to shore up NHS
    Nuffield Health is one of a number of private providers now on standby to supplement NHS services in England Picture Alamy

    Health leaders say the health service’s reliance on the private sector for capacity will do nothing to solve its staffing crisis.

    NHS England and NHS Improvement has announced a three-month deal with independent providers to deliver diagnostics, cancer surgery and bed capacity as COVID-related staff absence reaches almost 40,000 at acute trusts in England.

    Nurses are being asked to work on their rest days and cancel annual leave to fill unprecedented levels of staff absence.

    No silver bullet for long-term staffing shortfall

    Chief executive of NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor acknowledged working with the private sector would offer some support but he said it would not solve long-term staffing problems.

    ‘This deal – on top of the assistance we have seen from the military – means there is some further support if it is necessary over the coming months,’ he said.

    ‘These measures will not be a silver bullet and they should not mask the longer-term issues facing the NHS, such as huge staff vacancies.’

    Professor of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University Alison Leary added: ‘The independent sector is also affected by staff absences. This is a short-term solution but does not address the underlying issues of an ongoing massive deficit in the workforce.’

    NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said while the deal made sense, the amount of qualified staff to provide care was finite and it was important the arrangement did not exacerbate existing pressures on trusts.

    Private sector help and super-surge capacity

    The three-month agreement puts providers including Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health and Practice Plus Group on standby to support struggling trusts.

    Hospitals have already been asked to identify areas such as gyms and education centres to create ‘super-surge’ wards on top of their usual surge capacity.

    ‘Nightingale hubs’ are also being established in hospital grounds as part of the drive to create up to 4,000 ‘super-surge’ beds, but concerns persist about how they will be staffed.


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