Number of NHS staff at record high

Employment in the National Health Service jumped by another 23,000 jobs to a record high in the third quarter of this year, in spite of the squeeze to come on spending under the next government.

The increase– the seventh successive quarterly rise in NHS employment taking it to above 1.6m people for the first time– took even seasoned observers by surprise following an 18,000 rise in the second quarter.

Most had been predicting at least a levelling off in the workforce despite continued growth in spending, as health authorities and hospitals prepared for the real-terms freeze that is to come.

Nigel Edwards, policy director for the NHS Confederation, said: “We suspect this is the last stage before the tanker slows down and finally turns.”

The confederation runs a website on which most NHS jobs are advertised and the numbers on it at any one time have fallen from 10,000 at the turn of the year to 7,500. “People still do have growth money this year,” he said, “and they are pursuing targets and other government objectives. 

Furthermore, some of this recruitment will have been taking place before people had fully woken up to the scale of the problem to come. We think the decline in the number of jobs advertised, however, is significant.”

The increase, however, leaves the NHS across the UK employing 1,601,000 people, according to the Office for National Statistics: 400,000 more than when Labour took office. The growth follows a study in England by McKinsey, which said the NHS might need to shed 10 per cent of its workforce to keep the books in balance.

The bigger the workforce when the money starts to run out in 2011, the greater the efficiency gains that will be needed if it is not to shrink in the face of a real-terms freeze in spending.

The NHS in England has 5.5 per cent revenue growth for this year and next. However, David Nicholson, NHS chief executive, has ruled that at least 2 per cent of next year’s money must be spent on capital and other projects to transform the way care is delivered in subsequent years.

The rise in staff numbers was the driver for an overall rise of 23,000 in public sector employment in the third quarter of this year to 6.093m. Local government shed 3,000 jobs and public corporations employed 5,000 fewer people.

Civil service employment rose 4,000, driven chiefly by a rise of 7,000 in the numbers employed by Jobcentre Plus to deal with rising unemployment.

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