Workforce planning in the NHS is “breaking down” with fewer suitably trained staff available and increasing numbers of employees leaving the service due to ongoing pay restraint and stressful working conditions, NHS trusts have warned.
The NHS Providers organisation, which represents NHS acute, ambulance, community and mental health services, also said the early impact of Brexit meant vital recruitment from European Union countries was “dropping rapidly”.
In addition, it highlighted that there were not enough new staff being trained to replace those retiring.
- ‘Critical’ reasons behind nurses leaving profession laid bare
- Exclusive: NHS loses 9% of public health nurses in a year
- Ageing UK midwife workforce on ‘cliff edge’, warns RCM
- Nurse shortages ‘likely to worsen’ due to ’perfect storm’
In a policy paper published today – titled Investing in success: NHS priorities for the new government – NHS Providers said trust leaders were reporting that finding and keeping the right number of people with the right skills had now become their biggest challenge.
Insufficient numbers of mental health nurses were leading to delays in treatment, and too few community nurses were causing problems for the NHS’s plan to move care closer to home, it noted.
“To deliver safe care, trusts must be able to recruit enough people and pay them appropriately”
Politicians must urgently address the growing workforce challenges as part of the general election campaign, said the organisation.
It said that “when and how to end pay restraint must be a priority”, while claiming that in many places lower paid staff were leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets.
“The pressures on the NHS workforce are unsustainable. To deliver safe care, trusts must be able to recruit enough people and pay them appropriately,” said the organisation.
Earlier this year, the government’s independent NHS Pay Review Body recommended that NHS nurses and other staff on Agenda for Change contracts receive a 1% pay rise in 2017.
“Workforce concerns are now the number one NHS priority”
It follows several years of pay restraint for staff and is line with the governments’ intention in England to continue with an average 1% annual pay rise cap for public sector workers until 2020.
“Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll. Pay is becoming uncompetitive,” said NHS Providers’ chief executive Chris Hopson.
Meanwhile, the organisation reiterated calls for EU staff to be given certainty about their future following Brexit, and for reassurance to be provided about what the UK’s departure from the EU will mean for future overseas recruitment.
“Workforce concerns are now the number one NHS priority. Growing problems of recruitment and retention are making it harder for trusts to ensure patient safety,” said Mr Hopson.
“Unsustainable staffing gaps are quickly opening up in hospitals, mental health and community trusts and ambulance services,” he said.
“NHS Trusts want to see strategic solutions in place dealing with pay, the supply and demand of staff, retention and training. But they tell us they see no sustainable long term plans in place,” he added.
Commenting on the report, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “The government cannot ignore this warning from hospital bosses – poor pay for NHS staff damages patient care.
“Years of real-terms pay cuts have left nurses heading for the door,” she said. “They should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets.
“After the election, for the sake of patient safety, the government must scrap the pay cap and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs,” she said.
Meanwhile, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis warned that without enough nurses and midwives with the right training, patients would suffer.
“Action is needed now to stop staff leaving the NHS. Hospitals will struggle to keep skilled workers unless they’re rewarded with a decent wage rise and soon.
“The ongoing 1% pay cap imposed by this government and its predecessor has to be lifted. Labour has pledged to get rid of it – the Conservatives must do so too and reward staff for their dedication,” he said.