How can the NHS resolve its current staff crisis?
The latest NHS statistics are worrying. Last month, a record high of accident and emergency (A&E) patients had to wait for more than four hours to be seen, according to recent statistics from NHS England.
Alarmingly, the figures show that 275 526 A&E patients were seen after waiting for more than four hours – the target time – compared with 208 083 in July 2018, which is an increase of almost a third (32.4%). This represents the highest number of delays for July since the current records began in August 2010. Within this figure it was revealed that 436 A&E patients waited more than 12 hours to be seen.
Going some way to explain the exceptional delays, the figures also show that admissions at A&E departments have hit records levels in England – rising 6 per cent in a year to reach 2.27 million last month. A record number of people are also waiting for routine operations.
Alongside the increased demand for services, the delays seem to be the cumulative result of numerous adverse factors that have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the retention and recruitment of clinical staff within the NHS. These include significant rota gaps in hospitals, together with difficulty in recruiting GP partners, the infamous pension taper crisis and Brexit-related uncertainty for our European colleagues, all of which result in a pronounced loss of morale.
What can be done to resolve this deteriorating situation? Matt Hancock’s offer of a 3% per annum pay increase to junior doctors over the next three years hardly seems adequate when the private sector is seeing much higher rates of salary increase.
Sajid Javid has promised ‘pension flexibilities’ to avoid the punitive tax charges that are discouraging doctors from doing overtime and incentivising them to take early retirement. Perhaps the creation of an AI Lab, which will bring together the industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies to work on some of the biggest challenges in healthcare, including earlier cancer detection, new dementia treatments and more personalised care, will help? This lab will sit within NHSX, the new organisation that will oversee the digitisation of the health and care system, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative. Potentially, at least AI can play an important role, giving staff of the future the ‘gift of time’, as outlined in the Topol Review, to care for more patients with time-saving support from AI, but this is all some way off.
There is an upcoming event on NHS recruitment and retention that will seek top address some of these issues for anyone interested in attending.
What recommendations do you have to encourage high quality staff to join and stay within the NHS? All suggestions welcome!