Nearly 1 in 10 job vacancy adverts posted in December 2022 were for healthcare jobs, an analysis from the Office for National Statistics showed. In nearly all of the country, healthcare ads had the highest share of advert type, demonstrating a legitimate drought in specialist staff in the healthcare sector. The ONS released data indicating there were 1.5m estimated open job adverts as a daily average during December 2022. When using more specific analytical techniques, healthcare accounted for almost 190,000, or 12.7% of all open vacancies. Healthcare in general also made for the two occupations with the highest number of job adverts nationwide, with 30,000 + for support workers and 20,000 + for nurses.
In a previous article, we noted that health secretary Steve Barclay stated that 2024 is the target to get waiting times back within the remit of good care – a serious crisis facing the NHS today. Speaking in the commons in early February, he stated, “Ministers want to ensure that 76% of A&E patients are seen within four hours by next March, while category two ambulance response times - such as suspected strokes, heart attacks, burns and epilepsy - get to an average of 30 minutes over the next year”. A&E units have suffered from a lack of staff and shortages of special liaison staff for patients such as mental health liaison professionals, with a 2022 report stating that general NHS rosters face 110,000 staff shortages across the country.
The number of vacancies goes beyond A&E – with one of the main issues being with adult social care. In October 2022, a social care body publication demonstrated the latest analysis of the adult social care sector in England. The report found that the sector posts had increased 0.3% to 1.79m in 2021/22. However, the striking details were that of the open vacancies, fewer were being filled, with a decrease of 3% or 50,000 to 1.62m. This lead to a stagnating of existing posts still vacant, with an increase of 52% or 55,000 to 165,000 since 2020/21. The Skills for Care organisation stated an explanation for the decrease in post finally filled may be due to recruitment and retention difficulties in the sector rather than a decrease in demand, with employers not being able to recruit and keep all the staff they need.
Indeed, some NHS staff who work in care homes or take part in community nursing have left for other climes and their roles remain unfilled. Now, when we consider A&E pressures, there is often a discussion around A&E waiting times and a lack of beds. The lack of inpatient beds is owing to a number of NHS patients who are fit for discharge but may be waiting weeks or months to secure a spot in a community bed or nursing home, and the lack of specialist staff at said facility is blocking their discharge – bed blocking. This is one of the downstream effects of a general lack of staff in the health service. Everyone has likely seen the images of patients overnight in ambulances, queuing for A&E or in hospital corridors. Some elderly patients who were admitted for falls often had to wait in gurneys in corridors of A&E and then weeks or months in inpatient beds as social care teams rush to try and organise a destination for the elderly person who now has complex needs.
With a raging NHS pay debate and record staff leaving for other sectors, it remains to be seen how private companies and the NHS can persuade staff to stay in roles and improve their retention rates. It seems now is as good a time as any for students to get involved in healthcare jobs, and perhaps an extension of junior doctors, nurses and other professionals might ease some of the pressure. However, as far as the NHS is concerned, it seems systemic issues with funding, culture and resource availability are something which will be existing for decades without radical change.