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Training our NHS Health Workers: Should the UK train more of its staff?

Edmund Stubbs, April 2015

Our country’s health system is highly reliant on overseas health workers who often stay less than a year, as well as agency staff who work on a temporary basis at extremely inflated costs. Many posts in unfavourable specialities such as emergency medicine are currently vacant and there is a severe and growing GP recruitment crisis.

In this report, Edmund Stubbs suggests that these job and training vacancies and our reliance on agencies and overseas staff prove that fears of possible unemployment amongst medical professionals, were training to be increased, are unjustified. The report argues that an increased number of UK trained staff might in fact bring increased competition for posts and thereby help fill positions in less desirable specialities as well as in more remote locations around the country.

Such an increase of trained personnel would ensure that the NHS is not ‘held to ransom’ by some staff refusing to accept permanent NHS contracts, opting instead to work for agencies or adopting locum shift patterns at inflated rates of pay. The report proposes that, should NHS training places be increased, it could be stipulated that, in recognition of taxpayer funding, newly qualified staff must work for a set period within NHS institutions before being free to seek employment elsewhere.

The NHS currently spends around £2.5 billion employing temporary staff each year. The report suggests that allocating even a proportion of this sum to the training of UK based permanent staff would in fact save money, as the resultant increased competition for NHS posts would cause healthcare professionals to feel less secure in working for agencies, and thus seek permanent positions as demand for temporary staff is reduced.

The report also explores the NHS’s present high utilisation of overseas trained health workers may reduce service quality and patient safety in the UK. Overseas recruitment also has an extremely harmful effect on healthcare provision in the often poorer, developing countries from which these health care professionals are recruited.

‘…in almost every country healthcare workers represent a valuable and sought after resource. It seems illogical therefore that the NHS is not presently training sufficient numbers for its actual and predicted needs, and is thereby forced to recruit from other countries and use agency staff…’

“This report addresses issues that are key to any attempt to deliver an affordable National Health Service that meets the needs of the UK population. Edmund Stubbs highlights how the NHS is suffering from inadequate numbers of appropriately trained nurses and doctors: we are spending eye watering sums on recruiting from abroad, often jeopardising healthcare services in low and middle income countries and there is evidence that such a strategy may sometimes jeopardise the quality of care in our own country.”
Dr Hilarie Williams, Doctors’ Policy Research Group

In the Media

NHS spending inefficiently on non-permanent staff, says thinktank The Guardian

Train more NHS staff rather than spending £2.5bn on agency nurses, says Civitas think tank Daily Express

About the Author

Edmund Stubbs is Healthcare Researcher at Civitas. He studied Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield and has a Master’s degree in Health, Population and Society from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Edmund also worked as a healthcare assistant for four years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and as a freelance health consultant for one year.

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