Responding to health staff shortages

The National Health Service and the social care sector are facing the greatest workforce crisis in their history.” Parliament’s ongoing inquiry into workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care didn’t pull any punches as it issued its latest report into the sector in July 2022. Setting out the levels of shortage across doctors, nurses, and midwives, the report goes on to highlight the ever increasing demand on the health and social care sector which will result in a further 475,000 positions in health and 490,000 in social care within a decade.

As a result of the existing and future anticipated shortage the report comments that nearly 90% of BMA members think the Government’s aim to tackle the Covid backlog with the existing workforce is either “totally or mostly” unachievable. Of greater concern is the toll which the report indicates is being put on the health of NHS workers, leading either to the need to take time off or to individuals leaving the profession. In response the Royal college of Physicians called for ‘better workforce planning informed by patient demand.’

The shortage of trained doctors and nurses is not confined to NHS surgeries or hospitals. A BBC report at the beginning of August 2022 revealed that ninety percent of dental practices are not accepting new NHS adult patients with eighty percent not taking on children. Commenting on the report The British Dental Association commented that NHS dentistry was at a ‘tipping point.

Statistics such as these demonstrate the challenge facing the health sector. In a bid to overcome that challenge, in recent years we’ve seen the rise of smart systems which are designed to take some of the administrative burden away from health practitioners. Simple solutions such as SMS texting have already resulted in a measurable decrease in appointment no-shows whilst the ability to make appointments online has helped to improve patient accessibility. Other innovations such as digitising patient notes have not only saved administration time, they have also enabled clinicians and health professionals to better share information; collaborating in order to improve patient outcomes.

And these are only the tip of the iceberg. Innovations in patient treatment and care have been seen across a range of services; from apps which enable people to be monitored whilst living at home to robot-assisted surgery which enables surgeons to perform surgical procedures with a greater level of control than before. Innovations such as these are designed to improve patient outcomes and speed up recuperation whilst reducing the day to day burden on health services.

The Parliamentary report made seventy-three recommendations across health and social care. These covered areas such as workforce planning, recruitment, training, and the retention of staff. This last area considers the availability of flexible working patterns alongside pay and working conditions. Working culture including the challenges faced by those who are recruited overseas also came in for a number of recommendations as did the need to ensure continuity of care for individuals across health and social care systems.