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Tackle staff shortages and health inequalities by hiring locally, NHS told

by Jess Hacker
22 September 2021

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NHS organisations should consider hiring from local populations to address staff shortages while addressing health inequalities associated with unemployment, the NHS Confederation has said.

In evidence submitted to Health Education England’s (HEE) review of the NHS workforce planning strategy, the network suggested that staff inequalities within primary care result in unequal access which exacerbates health inequalities.

‘By opening routes to employment for people who may not have previously considered or been aware of the variety of roles’ in the NHS, it said, the sector is helping to ensure the workforce ‘reflects the diversity’ of its local population.

It added: ‘Building a workforce that is more representative on the local area can help to design and deliver inclusive services and respond to patient need, it also helps to grow local workforce supply.’

The report also pointed to research which shows deprived areas have fewer GPs per 10,000 patients than affluent areas, indicating a need for ‘targeted interventions’ within these areas of the workforce.

In July, HEE was commissioned By NHS England to review the long-term workforce strategy for health and social care sector.

The review, which will build on the NHS People Plan, will renew and update the existing long term strategic framework, HEE’s Framework 15.

Throughout the pandemic, primary care staff have cited the sector-wide shortages as having a significant impact on their well-being and patient care.

Recent estimates suggest England is short of the 49,162 FTE doctors needed to meet the country’s current healthcare challenges.

Can’t clear backlog without financial clarity

The Confederation also set out that the health service will be unable to make a real mark on the care backlog without a better understanding of how many staff they can hire.

It said: ‘Financial clarity is essential so that NHS organisations can make key decisions on how many staff they can hire and how much they can invest in their elective capacity to reduce the backlog.’

For example, it said some providers are reporting the current uncertainty means they are unable to plan beyond 12-month fixed term contracts for key skilled professionals.

In effect, this would mean they are more likely to move elsewhere for work or not apply at all without a guarantee of a permanent role.

‘The situation is being compounded by the significant workforce shortages, close to 90,000, that the NHS is experiencing and high levels of staff stress and burnout as a direct impact of the pandemic which threatens to further increase NHS vacancies and in turn drive demand.’

The latest NHS performance stats put the estimated backlog for care at over 5.6 million patients.

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