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Nurse shortages contributing to greatest ever workforce crisis

Persistent understaffing now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, with no credible strategy to address it, says report by Commons committee
A busy hospital reception area with nurses checking documents or on their way to other areas

Persistent understaffing now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, with no credible strategy to address it, says report by Commons committee

A shortage of 50,000 nurses and midwives is creating a serious risk to patient safety as the NHS in England faces ‘the greatest workforce crisis in history’.

A cross-party report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee found severe staff shortages across the NHS in England with no clear strategy from the government on tackling the workforce crisis.

The report, based on

Persistent understaffing now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, with no credible strategy to address it, says report by Commons committee

A busy hospital reception area with nurses checking documents or on their way to other areas
Picture: Alamy

A shortage of 50,000 nurses and midwives is creating a serious risk to patient safety as the NHS in England faces ‘the greatest workforce crisis in history’.

A cross-party report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee found severe staff shortages across the NHS in England with no clear strategy from the government on tackling the workforce crisis.

The report, based on research by the think tank Nuffield Trust, found nurse shortages could be as high as 98,800 due to vacancies and absences. It also showed shortages elsewhere, including 12,000 hospital doctors and a fall of more than 700 full-time GPs over three years to March 2022.

The report says: ‘The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care. But most depressing for many on the front line is the absence of any credible strategy to address it.’

It says staff are under pressure and the NHS loses millions of full-time equivalent days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression. Simple things that could alleviate this are not in place, such as access to hot food and drinks on shifts and flexible working.

‘The result is that many in an exhausted workforce are considering leaving — and if they do, pressure will increase still further on their colleagues.’

NHS workforce framework expected later this year, but may not include specific staff numbers

Poor pay was also cited as a main driver of staff resignations.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: ‘On pay, the committee was very clear, saying it is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent and travel to work.

‘Their recommendation that nursing staff should be given a pay rise that takes account of the cost of living crisis should make government rethink the latest pay deal, which follows a decade of real-terms pay cuts that will force even more to leave the profession.’

Committee chair Jeremy Hunt criticised the government’s lack of workforce planning, adding that NHS staff deserve to know there is a plan in place. He said: ‘We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.’

The government had promised to publish a workforce plan in spring but missed the target. Instead, it is expected that a framework will be published later in the year but with no solid numbers on the staff needed in the NHS.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said there were now 9,600 more nurses working in the NHS in England compared with last year. ‘We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the COVID backlogs.’


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