By Local Democracy Reporter
HEALTH organisations are rapidly trying to address a severe shortage of staff at hospitals across mid and south Essex, as new figures show there could soon be as many as 2,000 vacancies.
The crisis has been revealed in a new report that shows 1,962 posts are vacant – the equivalent of more than one in 10 – and a programme is set to be launched that will seek to recruit nurses from overseas.
The report calls the struggling workforce “the biggest challenge” faced by the hospitals and goes on to outline how low staff numbers are impacting emergency departments, women’s and children’s departments, medicine, cancer wait times and ambulance response times.
Most of the vacancies are in nursing, where in December 2018 there were 771 vacancies across mid and south Essex – an increase from 704, the previous year.
To combat the problem, Southend Hospital is having to rely heavily on nurses who have been encouraged back to work after retirement. This is being done through a “retire and return” scheme which has increased staffing levels by 40 per cent.
An NHS staff guide on this scheme details how it is made available to staff who have reached the minimum retirement age of 55 and they can return to either part time of full-time positions. They remain eligible even after claiming pension benefits.
The staff guide outlines states the aims are to “enable the NHS to retain the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to deliver safe patient care; help support the health and wellbeing of staff as they approach retirement and wish to continue working; ensure that overall workforce costs are managed in line with budgets”.
Meanwhile, Basildon Hospital is attempting to make staff stay through “development opportunities, regular drop-in sessions and meetings with senior staff and listening to the main causes for leaving, which are relocation, retirement and further opportunities to develop”.
A recruitment and retention programme in Broomfield Hospital has reduced nursing turnover from 18 per cent to 15 per cent, this includes guaranteeing that all nurses that train at the hospital will be employed.
While health organisations are preparing to begin recruiting overseas, there are fears that the UK’s departure from the European Union will make the problem even worse.
In October last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism listed Mid Essex Hospital Trust, which oversees Broomfield Hospital, as one of the five trusts most dependent on EU workers and senior NHS figures warned recruitment would be heavily affected as European recruitment dries up.
In the 12 months after the Brexit vote the Nursing and Midwifery Council register shows the number of nurses and midwives arriving from the EU fell by nearly 90 per cent.