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JUN 02/2014

Growth in NHS jobs will have a positive impact on patient safety

The creation of new jobs in the NHS has seen a significant acceleration in the last 12 months, as part of a concerted effort to raise standards within the health service.

Although public spending levels have generally been constrained in recent years due to ongoing global economic challenges, efforts have been made to ensure the hospital staffing levels across the country are maintained and increased.

As well as providing new opportunities for medical professionals, this trend is likely to help deliver a number of practical improvements in terms of service quality over the years to come.

The rise of staff numbers
The recent increase in staffing levels was highlighted by data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) published earlier this year, which revealed that 1.36 million people were working for the NHS in England as of September 30th 2013.

This represented a 0.4 per cent year-on-year increase, with 5,870 jobs having been created since the same point in 2012. Taking a longer-term view, the upward curve is even more pronounced, with staff numbers shooting up by 151,580 since 2003, equivalent to a 12.5 per cent rise.

Other key findings from the report show the number of GPs has risen by 19.9 per cent in the last decade, with female staff members outnumbering males for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the total amount of professionally qualified clinical staff stood at 692,160 in 2013, its highest level in a decade.

Moreover, there were 54,580 hospital doctors in training - up by 2.4 per cent on 2012 and 46.2 per cent on 2003 - which indicates the talent pipeline remains well-populated.

Reasons behind the increase
The rise in staffing levels comes at a time when the number of people working in hospitals is coming under increased scrutiny. The recent Francis Inquiry into care failings at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust revealed that a lack of manpower may have contributed to the poor service received by patients.

As such, new laws and guidelines on safe staffing levels have subsequently been introduced to ensure hospitals across the country always have enough doctors and nurses on hand to meet the needs of patients.

Naturally, this is contributing to the recent surge in new NHS posts for nursing and other frontline roles, a trend that health minister Dan Poulter, in a recent interview with HSJ, described as one that should be welcomed.

He said: "That is the right thing to do in response to the terrible events at Mid-Staffordshire and has put us into a position we perhaps should have been in before."

What more can be done?
According to Dr Poulter, hospitals that are looking to expand their workforces even further need to do more to streamline their back-office functions and administration costs, as this will free up resources to hire more frontline staff.

Additionally, Health Education England is taking several steps to reform and improve the quality of training available to medical students, including the introduction of a new values-based test to instil qualities of compassion, new training for GPs based around the key areas of mental health, child health and care for older people, and the introduction of more flexible standards for healthcare staff to help them work across primary care and secondary care boundaries.

In the minister's view, all of these moves will help to ensure that a steady supply of skilled workers remain available to NHS employers, allowing them to tackle the various challenges facing the healthcare system with confidence.

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