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NHS workers trapped in ‘vicious circle’ of staff shortages and exhaustion, health service experts warn

NHS workers are trapped in a “vicious circle” of staff shortages and exhaustion, health service experts have warned, as they called for better funding of the health service. 

Real investment in capacity is needed to address vacancies in the NHS, the effect of which has been compounded by increasing rates of staff sickness, said Dr Layla McCay, policy director of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service organisations.

“We are seeing increasing amounts of sickness. We’re seeing staff burned out after working intensively for so many months. We’re seeing increasing numbers of people off with mental health problems, as well as issues around Covid,” Dr McCay told LBC radio today. 

“There are vacancies, there are absences and, as remaining staff cover those, there is a vicious circle where there are increasing numbers [of staff who have] exhaustion in the NHS.”

Her comments follow the publication of research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggesting that the NHS waiting list in England could rise to 14 million by the autumn of next year. 

The IFS also warned that the numbers joining the waiting list could outstrip those receiving treatment if millions of patients who did not go to hospital during the pandemic return to the health service for medical care. 

Dr McCay added that in order to manage the expected numbers of existing and returning patients, “there is going to have to be a real investment in capacity.”

There are currently 76,000 staff vacancies in the NHS, including 40,000 for doctors.

Professor Angus Dalgleish, clinical oncologist at the Cancer Centre London, described the level of vacancies as at a “crisis point.”

He told LBC: “These are funded doctors which we cannot appoint.

“The number of GPs that we are down is about 5,000 to 6,000 and in the next few years it will be 10,000.”

The warning came after MPs published a damning report in June highlighting “emergency” levels of staff burnout in the healthcare sector. 

Last month, research by doctors’ union BMA found that England was 25 years behind comparable European nations in terms of the number of doctors per 1,000 people.

Saying that it was “unforgivable” that the government had allowed workforce levels to reach this point, the union demanded extra Treasury investment in training and retaining doctors. 


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