NHS staff shortages and skills gap could persist until 2027, new report warns

NHS Pay Review Body says staff vacancies are likely to be the biggest headache for healthcare providers
NHS Pay Review Body

NHS Pay Review Body says staff vacancies are likely to be the biggest headache for healthcare providers

NHS Pay Review Body
Potential effects of Brexit and the chiefly domestic routes into nursing could all have an effect on staffing,
reports the NHS Pay Review Body. Picture: iStock

The NHS workforce gap will persist until 2027 if no action is taken on staff numbers, productivity or service redesign.

This finding on the disparity between staffing supply and need comes from the NHS Pay Review Body’s (RB) annual report, which analyses the pay of NHS staff on the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scale.

Nurses in England voting to accept the new pay scale was part of what the RB identified as 'the most significant change' to AfC since its introduction in 2004.

In its analysis of the new agreement, the RB said freezing pay of staff, including nurses, had helped the NHS save money – but at a cost of the ‘recruitment, retention and motivation of NHS staff’.

Dominant issue

The report highlights how staff vacancy issues are likely to be the dominant issue of concern and the highest priority for healthcare providers for the future.

'These vacancies have consequences for the workload, hours and goodwill of existing AfC staff,' the report reads.

The RB found factors such as high workload and insufficient flexible working are increasing the chances of nurses and other staff leaving the NHS.

While the RB did note there were plans to increase the NHS workforce, in the long term those plans might not be enough to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

'There are some plans in place, which contain significant risks, to bridge that gap by 2021, but the gap will persist to 2027 if there is no action on workforce numbers, productivity or service redesign,' the report reads.

Brexit effects

The RB found that chiefly domestic routes into nursing and the potential effects of Brexit are likely to increase the risk of recruiting sufficient staff in the future.

There also appears to be some competition between trusts over nursing staff, according to data from NHS Improvement, the RB said.

The rate at which registered nurses left trusts, including to go work in other trusts, had increased from 12.3% to 15% over the past five years.

In terms of future government planning on workforce supply the RB pointed to the draft Health and Care Workforce Strategy, due to be published by Health Education England (HEE) next month, stating the plan recognised the importance of increasing the number of people working in the NHS.

However, the RB also cast doubts on the strategy's potential effectiveness, particularly on who would manage the supply of AfC staff.

Citing a reduction in acceptances to nursing education courses of 0.9% in 2017, the RB raised its concern that, 'there may be risks over the quality of entrants.'

Potential debts students face

The impact of the abolishment of the student bursary on the career choice of graduates was also a concern to the RB given the potential debt students would face.

On another aspect of pay, the RB said the impact of the new pay structure on the gender pay gap will 'require monitoring'. It references latest data collected from NHS trusts across the UK in April showing the gender pay gap in nursing was 1% in favour of men.

The mean salary for a male nurse or health visitor was £31,582, compared to female nurses and health visitors who's mean salary was almost £200 lower at £31,387.

Related material

National Health Service Pay Review Body 31st report: 2018

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