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Get a grip on NHS staff vacancies, new health secretary warned

Latest provisional figures point to ongoing recruitment and retention issues

Caroline White

Friday, 27 July 2018

The number of advertised staff vacancies in the NHS remains high, provisional data* published by NHS Digital reveal. Although the figures indicate a slight improvement on last year’s figures, the vacancy rate is still higher than it was three years ago.

The figures have prompted the BMA to urge new health secretary Matt Hancock “to get a firm grip” on the situation if he wants to make the NHS truly sustainable.

The data show that in March 2018 there were 28,998 advertised vacancy full-time equivalents in England published: this compares to 30,613 in 2017, 26,424 in 2016, and 26,406 in 2015.

In the first quarter of 2018, there were 87,478 advertised vacancy full-time equivalents in England. Of these 82 per cent (71,421) were permanent and 18 per cent (16,057) were fixed-term.

The number of advertised vacancy full-time equivalents varied between the National Workforce Data Set (NWD) Staff Groups, the data show.

In March 2018 the highest percentage was seen among nursing and midwifery staff, accounting for 40 per cent (11,483 out of 28,998) of vacancy full-time equivalents, followed by 21 per cent (6,092 out of 28,998) among administrative and clerical staff.

The figures are derived from NHS vacancy statistics created from administrative data related to published vacancy adverts obtained from NHS Jobs, the main recruitment website for the NHS.

But NHS Digital cautions that the figures “are exploratory and provide information on the administrative data available from NHS Jobs as much as on the recruitment of staff.” Although the data provide an insight to recruitment in the NHS they should therefore be treated with caution, it says.

But BMA representative body chair Dr Anthea Mowat said the figures reflected an underlying trend.

“These figures point to a problem the last health secretary let spiral out of control and which the new health secretary must get a firm grip on if he truly wants to put the NHS on a sustainable footing to make sure we can do best by patients,” she stated.

“If this is an accurate snapshot of vacancy rates, it explains why so many of our members say staffing levels have deteriorated in the past year and pressures on the system leave them fearful of making a serious error.

“At a time when so many understaffed and under-resourced hospitals have rota gaps running doctors ragged, it’s mystifying that ministers won’t recognise the contribution real-terms pay cuts have on the health service’s ability to recruit and retain doctors as witnessed in another disappointing and inadequate pay review,” she said, referring to the latest pay rise awarded to public sector workers, announced earlier this week.


*NHS Vacancy Statistics England – February 2015-March 2018, Provisional Experimental Statistics. Prepared by NHS Digital, 26 July 2018.

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