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Workforce Update September 2021

Welcome to this month’s UK Workforce Update

Through these regular updates we will share with you some of the key developments in different areas of health and care policy, all through publicly available resources.

Supply and Demand Challenges

18 months after the first Clap for Our Carers, the healthcare workforce is still being discussed by government leaders as new reforms were announced. In relation to working culture, the BMA recently published its Sexism in Medicine report, created following the #Everydaysexism in the NHS survey. Response to the report by the NHS Confederation can be viewed here.

UNISON has announced 80% of healthcare workers in England have opposed the 3% wage increase offered by the government in recognition for their work during the covid-19 pandemic. Opposition has also been expressed by Unite, the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing. BMA Cymru Wales has echoed workers’ need for improved pay, and has also negotiated a modernised contract for specialty doctors. Meanwhile, in response to the proposed pay rise for nurses in Scotland, an industrial action ballot is going to be issued. Other potential changes to working conditions include making covid-19 vaccination mandatory for frontline workers as well as a recent legal clarification that ‘sleep in’ workers are excluded from the National Minimum Wage – a concept that, according to learning disability charity MenCap, will further stretch the social work sector.

Alongside nationwide contractual reform, the UK government is currently devising a ‘Plan B’ amidst ‘record waiting times’ coupled with the global pandemic this Winter. However, unions have criticised that this does not take into account that the NHS is currently short of 50,000 doctors, with over 50% considering retiring early and increasing levels of absence due to poor mental health since the pandemic began. New data found that mental health absences in the NHS were over treble the number of COVID-19 absences. The Nuffield Trust also warned of challenges facing the mental health workforce this month. It is hoped the newly introduced contractual flexible working provisions and increased training in how to support colleagues’ mental health will reduce the reported burnout. The GMC, statutory education bodies (SEBs), royal colleges and trainee representatives have released a joint statement also committing to flexible progression and assessment for its trainees.

Growing Education Places

In combination with adjusted exam results due to covid-19, the Department for Education has provided funding to reduce the impact of over-subscribed places by incentivising students with up to £10,000 to attend a different medical school. However, the BMA has warned that this may not translate into enough university facilities or training places upon graduation. This funding will also be shared across other healthcare related training programmes. Institutions, such as the University of Cumbria, are also launching new ‘fast-track’ masters programmes to encourage individuals to retrain in nursing. This follows the UK Government reporting nursing applications going up by a third for the upcoming academic year.

International Recruitment Strategies

According to the WHO, 18 million more healthcare workers are projected to be needed by the end of the decade, with the organisation’s 5 year action plan due to be renewed this year. This has led to a particular focus on improving strategy for rural areas and allowing workers from critically underserviced areas to relocate. To cope with widespread nursing shortages, hospitals in the United States have been enticing prospective staff with recruitment bonuses and responsibility adjustments. Additionally, hospitals have been instructed to support staff adhering to covid-19 mandates, including vaccinations and testing. In Canada, shortages have led to widespread hospital bed closures, leading to calls for the government to do more to encourage staff to stay. In developing economies, such as India, many healthcare systems relied on unpaid care labour during country-wide lockdowns. The resource-heaviness of covid-19 has since exposed workers to a lack of equipment alongside gender bias in any government support provided. This global picture echoes recent calls by WHO Regional Committee for Europe to protect health and care workers.

Produced by Heather McAdam, Jamie Carruthers and Arrash Yassaee



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