HCL: More Flexible Staffing is Only Solution
HCL plc, the UKs largest health and social care staffing company, has said that more effective use of flexible and locum staffing is the only way to address the staffing crisis in the NHS, which is reaching critical proportions.
Figures published by the NHS last Friday show a 5.2% vacancy rate among hospital doctors and dentists, compared to 3.6% this time last year, while nursing vacancies rose from 2.5% to 3.1% over the past year. As one in five posts have remained vacant for three months or more, the figures point to a crisis in long term recruitment and retention, with the problem particularly acute in London.
HCL, which provides highly qualified doctors, allied health professionals and specialist nurses to the NHS on both a locum and permanent basis, said that the market for healthcare staffing has always been one in which demand outstrips supply, with this imbalance expected to become more pronounced due to a growing population, an aging healthcare workforce and not enough school leavers entering the profession. Short term crises such as flu pandemic and structural changes like the European Working Time Directive for doctors are also exacerbating the situation, HCL said. In addition, global competition is drawing growing numbers of healthcare professionals to seek work overseas.
Kate Bleasdale, Executive Vice Chairman of HCL, said:
This crisis is caused by long term social and demographic changes - a growing and aging population, an aging and increasingly female healthcare workforce, and the caring professions being seen as a less attractive career proposition for young people. This is not a sudden development it is something that we have been flagging up for years. The tragedy is that NHS workforce planning tends to take place over five year electoral cycles and there has been a shocking lack of long term planning to cope with these trends.
We have always said that the health workforce is best managed by deliberately maintaining a strategic mix between permanently employed and flexible staff: a balance of 85% permanent to 15% locum is ideal. This has two benefits: it means that hospitals can staff up and staff down quickly to meet the fluctuating needs of the local population. This means that NHS Trusts only pay for staff when they need them. It is also cost effective as locum staff do not receive public sector pensions and other benefits the NHS pensions burden alone, for example, rose by 52 billion last year. Sourcing appropriately qualified healthcare professionals from countries where there is a surplus is also key to addressing the vacancies crisis in the UK.
We must also take into account the views of healthcare workers themselves. There is a trend towards portfolio careers in which healthcare workers actively choose to work as locums in order to build up their skills and experience across a wide range of clinical environments around the world. The figures released on Friday seem to back this up. It is simply not in our interests to risk alienating the workforce by not allowing them choice and flexibility in how they work healthcare professionals are increasingly forming a global, mobile workforce, and we must engage with this trend.
In short, the reluctance of the NHS to engage more effectively with the private sector and take a more sophisticated approach to workforce planning is leading to long term vacancies in the workforce, which could risk damaging patient care. As always, we remain committed to working closely with our NHS clients to help them achieve effective workforce planning so that we do not compromise frontline services to patients.