NHS struggles to recruit thousands of healthcare professionals

More than two thirds of NHS trusts and health boards are struggling to recruit qualified healthcare professionals.

More than two thirds of NHS trusts and health boards are struggling to recruit qualified healthcare professionals

Data from a BBC Freedom of Information request shows that on 1 December 2015, the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had more than 23,443 nursing vacancies – equivalent to 9% of the workforce.

In comparison, the average vacancy rate across the UK economy from November to January 2016 was 2.7%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The figures – which include 106 out of 166 trusts and health boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – also revealed:

  • Between 2013 and 2015, there has been a 50% increase in nursing vacancies, from 12,513 to 18,714.
  • For doctors, the number of vacancies went from 2,907 to 4,669 – an increase of roughly 60%.
  • In England and Wales, there were 1,265 vacancies for registered nurses in emergency departments – about 11% of the total.
  • For consultants in emergency medicine there were 243 vacancies – again 11% of the total.
  • Paediatric consultants – specialists in the care of babies, children and young people – were also hard to recruit, with 221 vacancies – about 7% of the total.

There are many reasons for the large number of vacancies in nursing and doctor posts on hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. One simple reason is that more posts now exist, but the number of trainees has not kept up.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, nursing places were cut, although they are now on the way back up. The BMA suggests it takes around 15 years between a medical student starting out at university and becoming a consultant so planning the NHS workforce supply and demand is a complicated process with a long lead-in time.

But there are also increasing pressures on the health service right across the UK which the NHS is having to respond to – a growing population that is older and sicker, with more complex health needs. In plain language “complex health needs” means more than one thing going on at a time, so an elderly person might be having to cope with arthritis, diabetes and heart problems.

But one other important factor is the “Francis effect” – the report by Sir Robert Francis into the scandal at Stafford Hospital identified a shortage of nurses as a key factor in the poor care of patients. Trusts in England in particular have been under pressure to recruit more staff. But when there is a shortage of qualified nurses they have resorted to expensive agency staff and that in turn has led to a growing financial crisis.

One solution to the staff shortage adopted by many trusts is employing doctors and nurses from overseas.

The figures show 69% – of all NHS trusts and health boards are seeking staff overseas.

And in just England and Wales, the figure is nearly three quarters of all trusts and health boards – 74%.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association blame poor workforce planning for the problems hospitals are having in finding qualified staff.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing posts are often the first target when savings need to be made, leading the NHS to find itself dangerously short and having to spend more on agency staff and recruitment from other countries.”

A spokesman for the doctor’s union the BMA – which is currently locked in a dispute with the government in England over a new contract for junior doctors – said: “Poor workforce planning means we aren’t producing enough doctors and sending them to the right areas,” he said.

Over 1000 NHS ‘never events’ a disgrace says Patients Association

Over 1,000 NHS patients have suffered from medical mistakes so serious they should never have happened.

Over 1,000 NHS patients have suffered from medical mistakes so serious they should never have happenedThe so called never events included the case of a man who had a whole testicle removed rather than just a cyst. In another, a woman’s fallopian tubes were taken out instead of her appendix.

Other “never events” included the wrong legs, eyes or knees being operated on and hundreds of cases of foreign objects such as scalpels being left inside bodies after operations.

Whilst NHS England insisted that such events were rare- the Patients Association said that they were a “disgrace”.

The research by the Press Association analysis also found that patients’ lives were put in danger when feeding tubes were put into their lungs instead of their stomachs.

Patients were given the wrong type of blood during transfusions and others were given the wrong drugs or doses of drugs.

The analysis showed there were:

  • 254 never events from April 2015 to the end of December 2015
  • 306 never events from April 2014 to March 2015
  • 338 never events from April 2013 to March 2014
  • 290 never events from April 2012 to March 2013

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It is a disgrace that such supposed ‘never’ incidents are still so prevalent.

“How are such basic, avoidable mistakes still happening? There is clearly a lack of learning in the NHS. It is especially unforgivable to operate on the wrong organ, and many such mistakes can never be rectified.”

NHS England insisted never events were rare – affecting one in every 20,000 procedures – and that the majority of the 4.6 million hospital operations each year were safe.

A spokeswoman said: “One never event is too many and we mustn’t underestimate the effect on the patients concerned.

“To better understand the reasons why, in 2013 we commissioned a taskforce to investigate, leading to a new set of national standards being published last year specifically to support doctors, nurses and hospitals to prevent these mistakes.

More than 400 people have suffered due to “wrong site surgery”, while more than 420 have also had “foreign objects” left inside them after operations – including gauzes, swabs, drill guides, scalpel blades and needles.

Others have been given the wrong type of implant or joint replacement, some patients have been mixed up with others, and some patients have been given the wrong type of blood during a transfusion.

Some patients have also been given far too high doses of drugs, including oral methotrexate, which is used for the treatment of severe arthritis, psoriasis and leukaemia.

Health Direct notes that the vast majority of the 4.6 million hospital operations each year are safe- but if a plane crashed after every 20,000 flights then people might stop flying.

Junior doctors threaten exodus after Hunt’s ultimatum

Junior doctors are threatening an exodus from the NHS after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt imposed a new contract.

Junior doctors are threatening an exodus from the NHS after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt imposed a new contract.After two strikes by junior doctors, the sticking point in negotiations remained the rates of pay for working Saturdays.

Under the new contract, 7am to 5pm on Saturdays will be regarded as a normal working day. But in a final concession, the Government offered a 30 per cent boost for any doctor working one or more Saturday a month.

Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chairman said the union was now considering “all options open to us” warning of a “real risk that some will vote with their feet”.

This could mean further strikes – with an option of a full walkout by junior doctors, an attempt legal action by the union, or moves towards mass resignations.

On social media, junior doctors said they were considering emigrating, while others staged angry protests outside the Department of Health headquarters in Whitehall.

Labour accused Mr Hunt of “behaving like a recruiting agent for Australian hospitals” while the Labour Welsh health minister tried to lure medics over the border.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Hunt said the BMA had proved “unwilling” to show flexibility and compromise.

He announced junior doctors would recieve a basic salary increase of 13.5 per cent – higher than the 11 per cent offered in November and insisted that no trainee working within contracted hours will have their pay cut.

The first new contracts would be imposed in August, on all new doctors graduating from medical school, and those changing contracts, during their training.

Some estimates suggest this means the majority of the 55,000 workforce would be on new contracts within a year.

Some doctors on longer contracts would not be affected, along with those who have completed their training, but not become a consultant.

In response, Dr Malawana had repeated the BMA’s offer of reducing basic pay in return for more unsociable hours payments.

Dr Malawana said: “The decision to impose a contract is a sign of total failure on the Government’s part.”

He accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of “ploughing ahead with proposals that are fundamentally unfair” and warned that it had no plans just to accept the contract.

He said: “The Government’s shambolic handling of this process from start to finish has totally alienated a generation of junior doctors – the hospital doctors and GPs of the future, and there is a real risk that some will vote with their feet.

“Our message to the Government is clear – junior doctors cannot and will not accept a contract that is bad for the future of patient care, the profession and the NHS as a whole, and we will consider all options open to us.”

Health Direct echos BMA council chairman Mark Porter views: “Nurses and other clinical staff who work in the NHS will know now that essentially the Government is coming for them. If the Government is prepared to impose a contract on junior doctors, it’ll be them next.”

Good News on World Cancer Day

The cancer death rate for men fell by 12% and for women 8% between 2003 and 2013.

The cancer death rate for men fell by 12% and for women 8% between 2003 and 2013

In 2013, 284 out of every 100,000 people died from cancer. In 2003, it was 312. Improvements in diagnosis and treatment are thought to be the reason.

The death rate for men fell 12% and for women by 8%, narrowing the gender gap.

But the actual number of cancer deaths rose – from 155,000 in 2003 to 162,000 in 2013 – as more people live longer and develop the disease in old age.

“The population is growing, and more of us are living longer,” Cancer Research UK chief executive Sir Harpal Kumar said.

Almost half of all the cancer deaths in 2013 were from lung, bowel, breast or prostate cancer.

Although the combined death rate for these four cancers had dropped by about 11% over the past 10 years, some other cancers, such as liver and pancreatic, had increased death rates.

Sir Harpal said: “Too many people are still being diagnosed with and dying from cancer, not just here in the UK but around the world.”

He said CRUK was focusing research on how to achieve earlier diagnosis and manage hard-to-treat cancers.

“Our scientists are developing new tests, surgical and radiotherapy techniques, and drugs,” he said.

“It’s important to celebrate how much things have improved, but also to renew our commitment to saving the lives of more cancer patients.”

Cancer Research UK compiled the cancer death rate data, which was taken from cancer registries in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Health Direct cheers the great news that half of cancer sufferers now survive the diagnosis.