Tackling workforce challenges in the NHS

Dr. Steve Fox argues that the healthcare sector must consider how insourced staff can be used appropriately to embed long-term resilience in the NHS workforce.

With an increased demand for healthcare during the pandemic exacerbating existing pressures on health services, the NHS has been left with a backlog of patients,1 as well as workforce and capacity challenges that policymakers and healthcare leaders are still attempting to grapple with. According to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s damning assessment of the landscape of the UK’s healthcare workforce, the health and social care sectors are facing the greatest workforce crisis in their history, with research by the Nuffield Trust finding that the NHS in England is 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives shy of what it currently requires.2

Indeed, further assessments suggest that England alone will need 475,000 additional jobs in the healthcare workforce by the 2030s.2 While pay has been recognised as a barrier to both recruitment and retention within the health and social care workforce, it is also important to look at other factors that have resulted in shortages in almost every healthcare profession in the country.2 The unfortunate reality is that the pandemic created a culture of long working hours with restricted breaks due to contamination and risk of spreading the virus3 In the early days of COVID-19, the world saw many healthcare staff living alone for months at a time to protect their loved ones, adding further to the emotional strain of working in the sector. 

Workforce morale is also at a considerable low, with the Committee’s report highlighting the that the NHS lost two million full-time equivalent days to sickness in August 2021, including more than 560,000 days to mental health issues including anxiety, stress, and depression.2 The result is that many in an exhausted workforce are leaving for other better paid sectors such as hospitality2 and the NHS has seen an increase in resignations.4

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