NHS hit by chronic understaffing

Barts Trust – the biggest hospital trust in the country – has 1732 staff vacancies

An ITV News Freedom of Information investigation has revealed chronic understaffing in NHS hospitals stretching across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, threatening closed wards and many cancelled operations

ITV News asked every Acute Trust in the country to disclose how many staff posts were vacant. Some hospitals reported over 1000 vacancies with the biggest gaps, at every Trust, in nursing. Other hospitals admitted some crucial roles had gone unfilled for years, despite repeated advertising.

In total 92 trusts responded to ITV News’ FOI request. The new figures underline the scale of the workforce crisis facing the NHS, after years of pay caps for staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

THE FIGURES

  • The Belfast Trust, which manages eight of the city’s hospitals, has 1236 unfilled vacancies, with one role first advertised over a year and a half ago.
  • At Barts in London, the biggest hospital trust in the country, there are 1732 vacancies - the highest in the UK.
  • Nearby the Trust at Barking, Havering & Redbridge has 849 vacancies including 401 vacancies for nurses.
  • University Hospitals of Coventry & Warks have over 1042 unfilled posts, while at Central Manchester University Hospitals there are 965.
  • But it’s not only nursing positions that are going unfilled. North Cumbria has 48 vacant roles for consultants, East & North Hertfordshire have 23, while Calderdale & Huddersfield has 44 consultant roles unfilled. 
  • And some hospitals reported worrying gaps in their intensive care units, like Epsom and St Helier where there are 36 roles unfilled. Basildon & Thurrock has 20 ICU vacancies.
  • The gaps aren’t for want of trying.
  • Derby Teaching Hospitals told ITV News 44 of its vacant nursing roles and 12 consultant roles were first advertised at least six months ago.
  • At some hospitals, especially in more rural locations, crucial roles have gone unfilled for years. Both Northern Devon Healthcare and Yeovil have vacant posts that were first advertised over two years ago, while Great Western Hospitals have a role for chemotherapy sister that has been advertised four times since August 2016.
  • In Scotland, the Highland NHS Trust reported 357 vacancies with one role that was first advertised over 19 months ago.
  • Despite no responses from the eight hospital boards in Wales, ITV News has found out that hospitals there currently have 636 vacancies. Betsi Cadwaladr University local health board is the worst affected with 139 vacancies.

Although hospitals can plug some of the gaps with agency staff, the current workforce crisis means its growing harder for them to meet demand and ensure patients are safe.

Earlier this year NHS trusts warned of a “breakdown” in workforce planning with fewer trained staff and more of them choosing to leave the profession.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt told ITV News: “We are rightly saying we want to have much higher standards of care after the tragedy of Mid Staffs, we cannot allow hospitals to skimp on nursing staff.. As a result of those changes we now have 15,000 more nurses in our hospital wards, 6,500 more doctors. But you can’t magic up doctors and nurses, they need to be trained, we’ve increased the number of doctors we’re training, we’ve made big reforms to nurse training”

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