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NHS nurse staffing levels 'lagging behind other wealthy countries'


The NHS has fewer nurses, beds and hospital equipment than other wealthy countries such as Switzerland, the US, Germany and Japan, new research comparing healthcare systems has found.

The report, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked the UK as 16th out of 32 nations for its number of nurses, with 8.2 for every 10,000 population in 2012. The average across these wealthy countries is 8.9.

This is despite staffing being the NHS’s biggest cost, noted the report called The NHS: How does it compare?.

“The situation is even worse when it comes to physical resources such as hospital beds and medical equipment,” added the study.

It found the UK has just 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 population compared to an average of 4.8 across the 32 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Although recruitment has already picked up, it is clear that NHS resources are very stretched compared with those in other [wealthy] countries”

Ana Nicholls

When comparing equipment – such as computerised tomography scanner and magnetic resonance image units – the UK is ranked as having less than half the average of the other OECD countries.

Overall, the study ranked the UK as being 28th – almost at the bottom – for healthcare resourcing, which includes numbers of doctors, nurses, beds and equipment.

But it is ranked for 16th healthcare spending, suggesting that the UK is not getting the best value for money, added the report.

It noted that nurse recruitment drives have occurred in recent years following the 2013 Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

However, it highlighted: “Even in better run hospitals, the demands of caring for elderly patients with complex needs are undoubtedly placing an extra burden on staff.”

“Expecting the health service… to meet rising demand with the same level of funding is in the realms of fantasy”

Peter Carter

“There is also a clear need across the UK for more midwives, owing to the rising birth rate,” stated the report. “The question, as always, is how to increase these resources, given the need to constrain spending.”

Meanwhile, the report points out that hospital beds are in decline “nearly everywhere,” partly in a bid to reduce inefficiencies and fixed overheads, and also in response to modern medical techniques that have cut the length of hospital stays.

Report author Ana Nicholls said: “Although recruitment has already picked up, it is clear that NHS resources are very stretched compared with those in other OECD countries.”

She added: “A tight government budget will make it hard for politicians to fulfil their promises of extra funding, but resourcing will only become a bigger issue as the population ages.

“Nevertheless, there are areas where the UK could be getting better value for its money, such as better links between local and national commissioning systems, and better coordination between health and social services.”


Peter Carter

Commenting on the report, the Royal College of Nursing said it showed that the UK’s health service “desperately” required more resources, equipment, and staff.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “Expecting the health service to continue providing services with the same level of funding is unrealistic, expecting it to meet rising demand with the same level of funding is in the realms of fantasy.

“If the UK wants a health care service befitting a wealthy OECD country, it has to pay for it,” he said.

He added: “Politicians of all sides must set out very clearly how they intend to fund the future health service in a way that is sustainable, without making further damaging cuts to staffing levels.”


Readers' comments (5)

  • It is a real concern that the National Health Services figures so prominently in election promises, yet there is a real lack of detailed discussion. It is, though, difficult to discuss plans in a frank and robust way in an adversarial system heightened by election rhetoric. I think there is a great deal of thinking in political manifestos which is 'top-down'. Healthcare delivery, however, attempts to be person-centred and is therefore, to some degree, inevitably 'bottom-up'. The two drivers can create a tension which is multiplied in day to day real-life scenarios. This creates a challenge to business models of funding as no-on can predict how individual health needs will arise in the short or medium term, let alone the long term, and what cost this will have, even without health scares like H1N1. Health is affected by a complex set of factors, which are difficult to measure, let alone predict and cost (life expectancy being an obvious issue that overlaps with social welfare needs). This is all the more 'awkward' to discuss in an environment where no-one wants to pay more in any form of taxation whilst wanting the 'free at the point of delivery' approach as far as possible when they need to use the service (prescription charges the obvious chagrin to those not exempt from paying them). Incidentally, a friend from the treasury doubts that any plans to pay for more staff by new or increased taxes on the 'wealthy' will raise enough funds. Any means of raising revenue has additional costs in itself in being set-up and managed. Just a thought or two for the political class.

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  • Martin James Childs's comment 6-May-2015 8:38 pm
    Martin you are not dealing with the obvious which is Bad Management it is NOT lack of money it is the way Management is spending it. "Not Value for Money" is the phrase which needs to be addressed.

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  • doctors and other staff as well. there should be EU norms for staffing levels, GDP spending and the number of doctors and nurses per capita.

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  • theyve got plenty of money its just badly managed by fat cats taking big bonuses they should be ashamed

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    Please update to Disqus or a similar system instead of this archaic one so we can have proper discussions with the proper facility for replies to comments or to signal our agreement or disagreement by up or down voting.

    there are plenty I would like to quickly signal my agreement with such as the comment above without actually having to write another comment. it also saves time when in a hurry.

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