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25 July 2022

NHS workforce shortages may be even worse than official data suggests

The number of doctor vacancies may be 4,000 higher than thought and nursing vacancies 11,000 higher.

By Afiq Fitri

The NHS in England could be short of 12,000 hospital doctors and 50,000 nurses and midwives, according to research by the Nuffield Trust health think tank.

The latest statistics from NHS Digital, for March 2022, show that there were 8,016 reported vacancies for doctors and 38,972 for nurses. The Nuffield Trust’s higher estimate, prepared for a report by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, uses fill-rate data provided by NHS England and NHS Improvement rather than reported vacancies. Not all posts are advertised because constraints on hospital budgets sometimes prevent hiring. 

The majority of vacant posts are filled by temporary staff. However, the NHS vacancy statistics also do not include short-term staffing gaps due to, for example, staff sickness. The MPs' report, published today (25 July), said that the NHS and the social care sector “are facing the greatest workforce crisis in their history”.

The government has made progress towards fulfilling its 2019 promise to increase the number of registered nurses in NHS England by 50,000 by 2024. The number of GPs, however, has continued to fall. Despite the Conservative pledge that there would be 6,000 more full-time equivalent GPs by 2024, in April there were 464 fewer qualified, permanent GPs than in March 2019 and 1,565 fewer than in September 2015.

The Health Foundation, a charity, has projected that based on current policies and trends, the shortage of full-time equivalent nurses, GPs and other primary care staff could peak at 180,000 by 2024-25.

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[See also: Why Keir Starmer has borrowed the Tories’ “magic money tree” attack line]

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