Staffing crisis deepens in NHS England with 110,000 posts unfilled

One in 10 nursing positions empty as are one in 17 doctors’ jobs, official figures show

The NHS is facing a deepening staffing crisis, with the number of unfilled posts across health services in England rising to 110,192, official figures show.

The shortages include 39,652 nurses and 8,158 doctors, according to the latest quarterly data for health service vacancies published by NHS Digital.

The disclosure prompted warnings that the shortage of frontline personnel would lead to longer delays, hit the campaign to cut the 6.1m treatment backlog and undermine quality of care.

Staff groups said they feared that low pay, burnout from heavy workloads and constant pressure during shifts, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, were leading demoralised workers to quit.

Across England, one in 10 (10.3%) nursing posts are lying empty, and one in 17 (5.8%) doctors’ posts.


The 110,192 vacancies across NHS England in October to December 2021 represents 8.3% of the total workforce – one in 12 of all posts. Those 110,192 vacancies are more than 6,000 up on the 103,754 unfilled posts in NHS England in the previous three months. That is the highest quarterly total since the 111,864 in April-June 2019, and is the third worst since records began in 2018.

The 39,652 nursing vacancies represent 10.3% of the nursing workforce. Although that is 161 fewer than in the previous three months, it is 3,375 more than in the same quarter last year. At least 9% of all nursing posts have been vacant since 2018.

“The fact that nursing vacancies remain stubbornly high, at about 40,000 in the NHS in England, is deeply worrying. With every job that remains unfilled, safe patient care becomes even harder to maintain”, said Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ scrapping of the nursing bursary and failure to fix staffing shortages has been disastrous for the NHS, and patients are paying the price. NHS staff do heroic work but there simply aren’t enough of them. Yet the government still has no plan to fill these positions, meaning patients will continue to wait unacceptable lengths of time for treatment.”


The new statistics emerged as the government came under intense pressure to publish a long-term NHS workforce plan to end the endemic understaffing, and to provide regular updates on staff shortages in each area of care. Ministers must also disclose how plans to recruit the right number of workers are progressing.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of the hospitals body NHS Providers, said this week that ministers were being “incredibly shortsighted” in refusing to accept that the NHS needed a long-term workforce plan to help it function better. He blamed the Treasury for the government’s opposition.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has promised to publish a 15-year workforce plan, drawn up by Health Education England, by the end of the month, though it is unclear how detailed it will be.

NHS Digital’s figures show nurse vacancy rates are highest in London (13%), the south-east (11.3%) and the Midlands (11%) and lowest in the south-west (7.9%). London also has the biggest shortfall (11.9%) of nurses in acute – hospital-based – care.

One in six (17.1%) of all posts in mental health nursing are vacant, with particular shortages in the south-east (21.7%), east of England (20.3%) and London (18.2%).

Doctor shortages are worst in the Midlands, where one in 11 posts are unfilled. The Midlands is short of 1,678 medics to work in acute care, an 8% vacancy rate.

Dr Fiona Donald, the president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: “The shortfall means the NHS will struggle to tackle the backlog and places extra pressure on colleagues to complete extra shifts”. She said about 1m fewer cancer, heart and other lifesaving operations a year were carried out as a direct result of the NHS’s shortage of 1,400 anaesthetists.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS staff are working incredibly hard to save lives and support patients day in and day out, and we are hugely grateful for everything they do. We now have over 4,300 more doctors and over 11,700 more nurses compared to last year, and we are investing hundreds of millions in growing the workforce.

“We recently commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce strategy, and will set out the key conclusions of that work in due course.”


Denis Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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