As the NHS is one of the top five largest employers in the world, you would expect there to be no real problem with staffing our wards. But with well-reported mass NHS vacancies, and the imminent arrival of Brexit – possibly with ‘no deal’ – how are we to fill the gaps? The REC’s Health & Social Care group convened recently to debate the issues.
What’s the problem?
Staffing shortages and rota gaps have been an ongoing issue for the NHS for decades. With over 4.5 million people having contact with the NHS every week – and this being forecast to rise with an ageing population – we simply don’t have enough staff.
A poll of REC members at the meeting found that 89% of recruiters said that health and social care staffing shortages over the next 2 years will increase significantly. This was up from 77% from last October – perhaps the impending Brexit date has brought additional fears to the market.
Brexit is coming!
As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it looks as though there is no solution on the table for funding and staffing for the NHS. The NHS has relied on doctors and nurses from overseas for decades, particularly from Europe. The NHS European Office have reported that 5 per cent of nurses and 10 per cent of doctors come from the EU, and 20 per cent of surgeons trained in other EU countries.
Are we ready?
Probably not. The Nuffield Trust, King's Fund and the Health Foundation have estimated that 250,000 additional staff will be needed by 2030 to keep up with demand, and to allow for some additional improvements in patient care. We particularly need to retain our EU staff too; 10,000 of whom have already left the NHS since the Brexit referendum. It remains to be seen how many more will leave, and whether in the years ahead we will have an immigration system that proves to be attractive to overseas staff. Potential immigration changes are anticipated to come into effect in 2021, and the REC is working hard to make sure the changes work for our industry.
Brexit means we need agency staff
Agency staff have provided a vital lifeline to the NHS for decades. They continue to provide the NHS with the extra support that it needs in times of increased demand, and are vital in ensuring patient safety. Agency staff have skills on a par with substantive staff, often with many years’ experience working in the NHS. It is essential that these staff are recognised for their professionalism and contribution, are treated fairly, are valued and are made to feel part of the NHS family.
Furthermore, health and social care recruiters are experts in workforce planning, and those working in the health sector see the shortages that the NHS has to contend with on a daily basis. Recruiters are perfectly placed to identify where problems lie, and are able to offer immediate solutions. It’s time to stand up for the industry and showcase the great work we do.
Support for members
The REC has developed a Brexit Hub to help our members prepare for the UK leaving the EU. We have been holding a series of Brexit webinars, with the next one scheduled for 29 March. Following this, we are holding a series of 'Navigating Brexit' workshops across the country. The first of these will be taking place on 4 April in Cardiff.