According to NHS Digital, the NHS had 1,374,405 full-time staff members in February 2022. This figure is now approximately 1.4 million, and the UK is facing a workforce crisis. Since the pandemic, further depletion of the NHS workforce has increased the demand for healthcare staff. Over the last two years, government incentives have been put into place to combat staff shortages and reach the conservative’s 2019 manifesto of 50,000 more nurses by 2050.
The government’s ‘build back better’ policy, updated in March, laid out how UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to rebuild the NHS after ‘the worst public health emergency for a century.' This includes how the NHS will cope with the backlog of 5.5 million people waiting for non-covid related treatments and surgeries. Increased spending on health and social care will ensure that the NHS is more capable of caring for those who need it. Of course, this is if the government can source and retain enough staff to care for said patients.
In 2022, the goal to employ 50,000 more nurses is considered achievable; however England’s Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May, believes that this number will no longer be enough to account for said care backlog. As compensation, the government declared a 3% pay increase for 1.1 million NHS workers. Many considered this gesture grossly insufficient for how overworked staff were during the pandemic, not to mention current rates of inflation and recent national insurance contributions implemented to put money back into the NHS.
So, why are so many healthcare staff deciding to retire early or change their professions post-pandemic? Since the beginning of covid-19, frontline workers have dealt with the brunt of the pandemic and many have worked tirelessly to care for patients. Although courageous, many workers feel underappreciated and overworked. NHS charities together estimated that 6000 NHS workers are dealing with PTSD following the pandemic, and this figure isn't surprising. Countless workers were forced to stay away from loved ones for fear of transmission, and many witnessed the passing of patients and fellow staff members.
Although admirable, it is understandable why many health and social workers no longer want to be part of an NHS that is so underfunded and overwhelmed by an ever-increasing demand for care. Many workers who feel undervalued have spoken out about the unproportionate work-life balance, long hours and the emotional and physical toll.
The government has implemented various incentives to increase the number of healthcare professionals in the NHS. One such incentive is the increased recruitment and training of nurses. In 2020, NHS nursing apprenticeships, attractively named ‘earn and learn’, were implemented across England to kickstart the training of thousands of nurses. Thanks to government funding, trainees are able to earn their nursing qualifications whilst receiving the minimum salary for an apprentice.
It is clear that monetary incentives and access to training are a way forward in the current workforce crisis, but in 2022, the demand for more full-time nurses is increasing beyond the capacity to train and retain said nurses. Hospital wards are operating with insufficient numbers of staff, and those who are present are struggling under immense pressure. Looking ahead, the UK government must recuperate and rejuvenate the workforce whilst ensuring staff are given comprehensive training and fairer working conditions.
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