According to the latest figures released by NHS Digital there were 86,055 advertised full-time vacancies in the NHS in England in the first quarter of 2017, a ten per cent increase on last year.
In March, the last month for which figures are available, there were 30,613 vacant full-time positions advertised, compared to 26,424 in the same month in 2016, a rise of 16%.
Of the first-quarter vacancies, some 32,929 were for nursing and midwifery posts and 11,155 for medical and dental, which includes doctors.
Sky News recently spent time at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, London, a hospital that has introduced innovative measures to tackle its own recruitment challenges. It has +the largest A&E department in London, but is facing rising demand and a shortage of specialist registrars, middle-ranking doctors.
Northwick Park decided to recruit staff directly from India after facing competition from other London hospitals that were driving up pay.
Miriam Harris, the clinical lead in the Northwick Park emergency medicine department, who wants to prevent a bidding war, said: “Rather than offering large salaries, which is what we tried to do before and got caught up in a bidding war with all other hospitals in London, we were offering to train people and invest in them and their future.”
A specialist A&E registrar from New Delhi, Lajeesh Vettikat, said that he had been surprised by the pressure on A&E departments.
He told Sky News: “I had read about the A&E sector – now I know how real the shortage is in terms of doctors and nursing staff.
“This is the biggest A&E department in London and we have about 30 doctors a day here, but the number of patients in A&E is so huge we end up seeing patients in the corridors, in the back of ambulances, in the waiting rooms, in the relatives’ rooms.
“It is really worrying but we are working really hard to make sure the patients are safe and the department is safe.”
Nurses are also being trained at Northwick Park to become advanced clinical practitioners, an intermediate qualification that will enable them to take on some of the doctors’ duties, including prescribing medication and discharging patients which is crucial to freeing up beds and improving the flow of patients through the hospital.
Brexit may be causing some effect on the situation – In June, it was revealed that the number of nurses from the European Union registering to work in the UK had fallen by 96% since the Brexit vote last year.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has said that the NHS will have to recruit 2,000 doctors from abroad, despite having a target of training 5,000 more UK based doctors by 2020.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that there are approximately 25,000 vacancies and has said that the strain on existing staff is putting the NHS at a “tipping point”.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Staffing is a priority – that’s why we have invested in the frontline and there are almost 32,400 more professionally qualified clinical staff including almost 11,800 more doctors, and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards, since May 2010.”
Labour’s shadow health spokesman Justin Mathers told Sky News that the latest figures had not come as any surprise.
He said: “We’ve been warning for some time that the Government were simply not doing enough not only to recruit enough staff but to retain existing staff.
“We know that Brexit has led to a massive reduction in the EU nationals that work here in the health service and we know that figures show that more midwives are leaving the profession than joining it for the first time in the history of the NHS.”
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