A BBC investigation has revealed that two-thirds of trusts across England, Northern Ireland and Wales are actively recruiting from abroad as tens of thousands of nursing and doctor posts remain vacant.
Data obtained from a BBC Freedom of Information request show there were more than 23,000 NHS nursing vacancies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 1 December 2015.
The figures, which include 106 out of 166 trusts, reveal that between 2013 and 2015 there was a 50 per cent jump in nursing vacancies from 12,513 to 18,714.
Over the same period the number of vacancies for doctors rose around 60 per cent from 2,907 to 4,669. There were also 243 vacancies for consultants in emergency medicine and 221 vacancies for paediatric consultants.
Reasons for the growing number of unfilled nursing and doctor posts include the lack of trainees in the system, the length of time – currently around 15 years – it actually takes for students to graduate to consultant levels and the increase in the number of posts available.
Many hospitals in England are having to resort to employing expensive agency staff to make up for the shortfall in the number of qualified nurses. Not only does this contribute to the growing financial crisis within the health service but it also has a negative impact on patient care as it disrupts the quality of teamwork in regular staff.
Other trusts, in fact, 69 per cent of UK trusts and health boards and 74 per cent of trusts solely in England and Wales, are actively looking overseas for recruits to fill both nursing and doctor roles, with many applicants travelling from as far away as India and the Philippines.
Responding to the findings, the Department of Health confirmed there would be up to 10,000 additional training places made available by the end of this Parliament, saying: “there are already over 29,600 extra clinical staff, including more than 10,600 additional doctors and more than 10,600 additional nurses on our wards since May 2010.”
As was so painfully clear from the mid-Staffordshire NHS trust scandal, poor workforce planning, nursing staff shortages and cost-cutting can all do significant harm to services and patient care.
The lack of emergency consultants and paediatric specialists is also a huge concern. Accident and emergency departments provide a key frontline while paediatric consultants provide an invaluable service caring for babies, children and young people. Consultants in post and working are crucial to patient care and the longer these types of specialist jobs go unclaimed, the more pressure is heaped on services as existing consultants battle to cover the gaps.
Paul Sankey is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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