Staff shortages in specialist and experienced roles including nursing are being felt across nearly 80% of NHS trusts, despite almost all using temporary workers to try and fill the gaps, according to new research.
The research, commissioned by Unison, found 85% of trusts were finding recruitment “difficult” in general, with 78% struggling to fill higher paid roles, and 60% having difficulty filling posts at an intermediate salary level.
Only 10% had problems recruiting low pay grades.
The report noted this lack of experienced staff was a “particularly serious concern”.
Around two thirds of NHS organisations said they were “unsure” they had enough staff to meet current demand, with 40% saying they had plans in place to recruit more overseas staff than in previous years.
“[Safe staffing guidance and increased demand] have impacted most severely on the financial position and staffing for acute NHS trusts”
Unison report on NHS staffing
Almost all trusts (89%) said they were using agency or bank workers to try and meet staff shortages, with 60% saying they used this approach “a lot”.
The research was carried out by think tank the Smith Institute and involved surveys and interviews with human resources managers at around 30 UK trusts.
It also highlighted that in order to fill vacancies, nearly half were having to recruit people with less skills and experience than they would have done before.
HR managers told researchers recruitment problems stemmed in part from a lack of student nurses being trained.
They also said vacancies has increased mainly due to recently introduced safe staffing guidance following the 2013 Francis report on care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, plus more demand for services.
“It is a fallacy that the same job is being paid [differently] in different trusts around the country”
HR manager at an NHS trust
“These two factors have impacted most severely on the financial position and staffing for acute NHS trusts, with rising, unplanned demand for care in a hospital setting particularly impacting accident and emergency services,” said the report.
Just over half of the HR managers surveyed said they believed the NHS pay freeze for staff had had “some impact” on recruitment and retention, causing staff to consider working for private organisations.
But in interviews they did say pay was an important factor in staff leaving to join other trusts – particular for those in specialist or experienced positions - where the same role could have a higher salary attached to it.
“It is a fallacy that the same job is being paid [differently] in different trusts around the country. There is a huge amount of flexing of Agenda for Change going on, especially where trusts are in deficit,” said one workforce manager.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The findings raise some serious questions about the future of our public services in the years ahead – not just in terms of quality of the service and care they are able to provide, but also how safely staff are able to do so.”
He said that capping pay in the NHS and other public sector organisations made them less attractive places to work and called for action to tackle this “emerging recruitment crisis”.