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Nursing crisis sweeps wards as NHS battles to find recruits


0crisis sweeps wards as NHS battles to find recruits

Ministers are being warned of a mounting workforce crisis in England’s hospitals as they struggle to recruit staff for tens of thousands of nursing vacancies, with one in five nursing posts on some wards now unfilled.

Hospital leaders say the nursing shortfall has been worsened by a collapse in the numbers of recruits from Europe, including Spain and Italy.

The most recent NHS figures reveal there are about 39,000 vacancies for registered nurses in England, with one in 10 nursing posts unfilled on acute wards in London and one in five nursing posts empty on mental health wards in the south-east.

The number of nurses from the European Economic Area joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register has fallen more than 90%, from 9,389 in the year to 31 March 2016 to 810 in the year to 31 March 2021.

Thousands of nursing shifts each week cannot be filled because of staff shortages, according to hospital safe staffing reports seen by the Observer.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is already under pressure over worker shortages in the UK after Brexit, from lorry drivers to farm workers. Concerns among health bosses about the impact on patient care of acute staff shortages are revealed as experts warned last week that flu could kill up to 60,000 this winter.

NHS trusts are being paid by NHS England up to £7,000 for each vacant post to try to recruit nurses from overseas countries including India and the Philippines.

Patricia Marquis, England director for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “There just aren’t enough staff to deliver the care that is needed, and we now have a nursing workforce crisis. We should never have got into a position where we were so dependent on international nurses. We are on a knife-edge.”

Hospital trusts struggling to fill nursing posts include:

University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS trust – which runs Royal Stoke university hospital and Stafford’s county hospital – and which has reported 401 unfilled nursing posts to its board, a vacancy rate of 12%. The trust temporarily suspended non-emergency operations last month because of high demand and staff shortages. It is recruiting nurses from overseas, including from India and Ghana.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS trust, which has reported nearly 700 vacancies for nurses, midwives and operating department practitioners, a vacancy rate of 13%. It postponed 287 operations in July and August and appealed last weekend for nurses to work extra shifts because of “staffing shortfalls in our critical care wards”.

Mid and South Essex NHS foundation trust, with a 17% vacancy rate for nurses, one of the highest in the country. It has 2,269 full-time clinical and non-clinical vacancies. The trust reported that over the summer up to 1,850 patients a month were waiting longer than four hours in A&E because of staff shortages.

A survey by the union Unite of 188 critical care staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust has uncovered staff concerns of “chronic” nursing shortages and risks to patient safety. Nine out of 10 staff reported understaffing in their department on every shift.

Dave Carr, 58, a critical care nurse at St Thomas’ hospital and a Unite representative, said: “I work in intensive care for patients recovering from surgery and we need up to 11 nurses on that shift, one for each patient. We regularly only have three or four of our own nurses available and have to borrow nurses from other areas or get temporary staff. Staff are absolutely wrecked. More than 100 nurses have left the trust in the last 10 months.”

Shelley Pearce, 34, an accident and emergency nurse and RCN workplace representative in southern England, said nurses from Europe endured abuse from some members of the public after the Brexit referendum. She said: “I can quite understand why some made a decision to go home because they didn’t seem to be wanted.”

The government has pledged to increase the number of NHS nurses by 50,000 by 2025. NHS England announced £28m of funding in September last year to recruit nurses from overseas to help pay for accommodation, flights and quarantine. The upfront cost of recruiting a nurse from overseas is between £10,000 and £12,000.

By comparison, it takes three years to train a nurse in the UK and costs from £50,000 to £70,000. The government does not pay tuition fees, but provides maintenance grants worth at least £5,000 a year.

There is a global shortage of nurses, and consequently there has been criticism of trusts recruiting from overseas instead of training more UK staff. Even the new care and mental health minister, Gillian Keegan, is reported to have called it “unbelievably inefficient and also wrong and just bizarre”.

Despite this, a report by the Nuffield Trust thinktank commissioned by the NHS and published last week, said significant overseas recruitment would be required if the government nursing target was to be met. Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, called for a fully costed workforce plan in the government’s spending review this month.

She said: “We’ve had workforce shortages for many years, and we’ve seen that exacerbated by Brexit. The workforce is the engine of any hospital and when you have shifts that aren’t filled, that’s a huge challenge.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation, said: “We have experienced the pressure we would usually see in the winter months over the summer. Many staff are predicting that this will be one of the most difficult winters the NHS has ever faced.”

A survey of more than 1,000 NHS staff by the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, a charity that supports health service employees, found 73% considered leaving in the last year. Nearly one in three frontline staff said they were likely to leave in the next year.

The total number of full-time equivalent vacancies in the NHS in England has increased from 83,203 in June 2020 to 93,806 in June 2021, according to figures from NHS Digital, the government’s health and information centre. Over the same period, nursing post vacancies rose from 37,760 to 38,952.

Hospital trusts say they are recruiting staff from overseas to help fill posts. University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS trust said it had recently hired nearly 300 extra nurses, including 93 from overseas. Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust said staffing was an “ongoing challenge”, but it was successfully recruiting new staff. Mid and South Essex NHS foundation trust said its gaps were filled by agency and temporary staff.

A spokesperson for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust confirmed 118 nurses left this year, but said 97 started and another 30 were going through pre-employment checks. They said the trust was listening to all concerns raised by staff: “The safety of our patients and wellbeing of our staff are our top priorities. We are investing in recruiting more nurses, as well as continuing to provide extensive health and wellbeing support to our staff.”

Health experts say the overall NHS workforce is growing, but not enough to keep up with demand, and the proportion of unfilled jobs across NHS England has grown over the year.

The NHS said: “The NHS is committed to reducing nursing vacancies, including through international recruitment, and increasing wellbeing support for existing staff to boost retention.

“The nursing and midwifery workforce grew by over 2.7% over the past year with over 330,000 extra full-time staff delivering care, and 80,000 people across the country applied for a nursing course this year.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are seeing record numbers of nurses working in the NHS and applications to study nursing and midwifery have risen by 21% this year alone. We will continue to support our NHS workforce to grow to tackle the backlog, with 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament.

“We are working closely with Health Education England, NHS England, Skills for Care and the wider sector to make sure we have staff with the right skills up and down the country. This includes improving retention, investing in and diversifying our training pipeline, and continuing to ethically recruit from overseas.”

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12 State Governors Owing Us, Health Workers Cry Out

The Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria MHWUN, has cried out that governors of 12 states of Nigeria are unfair to their members by owing them several years of salary arrears and also failed to standardise their payments .

The medical body noted that the worst of it all is that these governors have failed to implement the N30,000 new minimum wage that has become a law in the country.

They said the governors have subjected them to harrowing life.

The MHWUN National Vice President , Femi Adebisi stated this in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti state capital at the weekend during the 2022 international youth day organized by the South West leadership of the union, under the theme , ‘Intergenerational solidarity : creating a world for all ages.’

Adebisi said the welfare of health workers remains the only recipe to the recurrent brain drain crippling the health sector.

He however, did not identify the affected 12 states.

“We have nothing less than 12 states that are owing health workers their entitlements.We are engaging them as a union and we are hoping the governors and everyone concern will do the needful soon”, he stated.

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Pay Hazard Allowance To Health Workers, NLC Urges F.G

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr Ayuba Wabba, has urged the Federal Government to immediately begin the payment of hazard allowance to health workers in the country.

Wabba made the call at the 2022 annual Federal Capital Territory Nurses Week/Scientific Workshop of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives on Thursday in Abuja.

At the workshop with the theme, “Invest in Nursing and respect rights to secure global health,” Wabba said the allowance has been reviewed but payment is yet to begin.

“Many health workers have fallen victim to diseases in taking care of patients. I salute the nurses and Midwives, your reward is not only in heaven but here on earth. I urge you to learn so you can discharge quality healthcare service to Nigerians.

“The payment of hazard allowance will boost the morale of our health workers in the country”, he added.


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Cholera Outbreak Kills 10 In Gombe

Gombe state government has declared an outbreak of cholera after ten deaths were recorded across the state.

This was made public by Habu Dahiru, Gombe commissioner for health,  on Thursday.

Dahiru, who was represented by Abdulrahman Shuaibu, executive secretary of the Gombe Primary Health Care Development Agency, said as of September 20, 236 cases of cholera had been recorded in the state.

“This year, from June, we had sporadic cases of cholera in Balanga LGA and because of the preparedness and prompt response; it has been largely subdued without escalation,” he said.

These outbreaks are recorded in eight wards across Balanga, Yamaltu-Deba, Nafada, Funakaye and Gombe LGA of the state.

“The state ministry of health has promptly initiated public health actions for prevention and control of the disease.

“As of September 20, there was an increase in the number of cases in Gombe state as 236 cases have been listed so far.”

The commissioner said increased downpour of rain and flooding in many parts of the state led to the cholera outbreak.

He said decontamination of wells and boreholes in affected communities would be carried out and distribution of water treatment tablets in all affected communities would be conducted.



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