The number of staff being trained to work in the NHS is “inadequate”, costing the health service billions as it is forced to recruit agency and overseas staff instead, a think-tank has warned.
Increased investment from the government must be provided to train more home grown staff and reduce over-reliance on expensive overseas recruitment trips and costly temporary workers, it said.
“We should not be fearful of increasing NHS staff training numbers by a much larger amount”
The think-tank – which looked at training policies for healthcare assistants, nurses and doctors in the UK – also called for healthcare workers that have their training paid for by the NHS to be required to work for the service for a minimum period before being allowed to work elsewhere.
The report by Civitas highlighted that agency nurses can be paid between £24 to £29 an hour, equivalent to an annual salary of up to £56,000. This compares to an NHS band 5 nurse being paid between £21,478 and £27,901 a year.
Current annual NHS spending on agency nurses – thought to be £1bn – could fund three years of training for around 19,600 student nurses, claims the report, called Training our NHS Health Workers: Should the UK train more of its staff?
If all these trainees were to go onto work for the NHS, they would almost fill the estimated 20,000 whole-time equivalent extra nurses currently required by the health service, it added.
“NHS ‘in house’ training could [require] newly trained staff… to work for the NHS for a set period of time”
It also pointed to recent cuts to nurse degree training places in the UK – a 13% reduction from 25,904 in 2010-11 to 21,529 in 2012-13 – with around 20,000 places available in the current year.
This has been met with an increase in nurse training places for England for 2015-16 – a 4% boost of 827 – but is not enough, according to the report.
“We should not be fearful of increasing NHS staff training numbers by a much larger amount,” stated the report.
A significant boost to training places would not only save the NHS money, but would lead to improved quality of patient care, it added.
In addition, as wards and departments became fully staffed with permanent employees, this would create better working conditions and therefore improve employee retention rates, stated the report.
It acknowledged that increased training places could lead to competition for NHS posts, possibly having the opposite effect and causing many staff to leave their positions to work abroad or seek employment in other areas, such as healthcare consultancy or research.
“To counter this possible problem, NHS ‘in house’ training could be undertaken with the understanding that newly-trained staff be required to work for the NHS for a set period of time before being permitted to work elsewhere,” said the report.
“A larger dependable permanent staff pool would result in enhanced workforce stability and patient safety”
Researcher Edmund Stubbs, who wrote the report, said: “It is evident that a lack of staff – or at least of staff willing to enter some specialities – is currently leading to excessive spending on agency staff, locums and overseas recruitment and exhausting financial resources that could be better used in training and employing full time staff.”
He added: “At present staff shortages in less desirable specialities are met by employing overseas trained, locum and agency staff at great expense and with a possible risk of reduced care quality and patient safety.
“A larger dependable permanent staff pool would result in enhanced workforce stability and patient safety,” he said.
Workforce planning body Health Education England said it was unable to comment due to mandatory restrictions imposed upon government announcements in the run-up to the election.