IT is quite understandable and right that all eyes have turned to Brexit. However, Parliament has a duty to scrutinise and try to improve all aspects of our country, not just one.
That’s why I led a debate on the issue of staffing levels in the NHS last week. We’re approaching that time of year where we start hearing about a ‘winter crisis’ in our hospitals. Nobody wants a return to those scenes of the elderly and sick waiting an inexcusable number of hours for care or for a bed.
But let’s spare a thought for those incredible NHS staff, who continue to go above and beyond, who may be about to enter their busiest period of the year. Sadly, in many places they’ll be working flat out with even fewer colleagues than in years gone by.
My constituents in Batley and Spen rely on The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust for hospital-based and community services. The Trust is a major employer of around 8,000 members of staff across three hospital sites, Pinderfields – Pontefract and Dewsbury and District which is in my constituency.
Like so many others, it is feeling the pressure when it comes to recruitment. The most recent figures show there was a 10 per cent vacancy rate. This includes 95 full-time equivalent posts for medical staff, 209 vacancies for full-time registered nurses and vacancies for all other posts covered by the Trust. Recruiting registered nurses and junior doctors in training remain the key workforce challenge. Staff shortages lead to very expensive cover being required and that bill is ultimately footed by the taxpayer.
I am glad that steps have been taken to mitigate against staffing shortages, including:
An extensive recruitment programme where vacancies across the trust are advertised and marketed widely.
Introduced the new role of Associate Nurse in partnership with a local university.
Expanded and increased the number of apprenticeship opportunities, offering a different route to careers in the NHS. Increased the number of nurses and doctors on the local temporary staff bank, reducing the reliance on – and cost of – commercial agency staff.
Despite all of this, problems remain. I am concerned that staffing shortages lead to fewer services for patients. Last week’s inspection of Mid Yorks revealed the safety of services was deemed to ‘require improvement’, something that is of clear concern.
The harsh funding climate in our NHS that has existed since 2010 is supposed to be coming to an end. Austerity is over, or so we are told. And when it comes to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff, the Royal College of Nurses doesn’t mince its words when it says the UK is experiencing a nursing workforce crisis, particularly in England. With one in three nurses due to retire within a decade, we’re facing a perfect storm of heightening vacancies across health and care.
Today there are almost 41,000 vacant nursing posts in the NHS – and it is estimated that the number will grow to almost 48,000 by 2023. Meanwhile the desperate need for more mental health staff is well reported and the consultant psychiatrist vacancy rate in the region is an above average 11.7 per cent.
And nothing can entirely escape Brexit, nearly 10 per cent of doctors working in the UK are from the EEA, making a massive contribution to our NHS.
The BMA warns that many EEA doctors continue to feel unwelcome and uncertain about their future here, with more than a third considering a move away. The case for improvement is clear, but the roadmap towards it is anything but. There’s an enormous legislative gap where responsibility of NHS staff should be. Shockingly, there are no specific legal duties or responsibilities at UK Government level to ensure that health and social care providers have enough staff to provide safe and effective care to meet the needs of the population.
Six years on from the Health and Social Care Act it is still unclear which organisation is accountable for workforce strategy. Which means that too often nobody is taking responsibility. Despite the best efforts of staff and many individual Trusts, they need national support to solve this national problem. We can’t rumble on like this.
Tracy Brabin in the Labour MP for Batley and Spen.