The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is a prominent source of contention in the country’s ongoing battle with rising demand for quality health care. The organization’s 67-year history is marked with numerous financial issues and overspending, coupled with growing concerns over understaffing. A recent report highlighted the latter issue, revealing that the already low-staffed agency inflated the personnel count in December 2015. Instead of employing 1,083,545 full time equivalent workers, the true number of health professionals working with the NHS is nearly 70,000 less.
The updated staffing count within NHS is a blow to the already struggling organization, as it means patients are left with 15,000 fewer nurses and more than 3,000 fewer doctors. And the crisis is not specific to one or two specific agencies – it is affecting nearly every hospital and GP surgeries around the country. With a current shift toward an aging population and the subsequent increased demand for healthcare services, updated understaffing reports within NHS paint a somber picture.
Impact on Patient Care
A direct line can be drawn between the NHS understaffing crisis and budget deficits within the healthcare system. A lack of NHS staff means that temporary doctors and nurses from outside agencies must be contracted to provide the care patients so desperately need, leading to additional spend on compensation. A steep markup on additional temporary staff provided by staffing agencies and other outlets ends up costing the NHS billions. In fact, throughout 2013 and 2014, the NHS overspent by £2.8bn – the total personnel costs for the organization are set to reach £3.7bn by the end of 2016.
But the pounds spent on additional contracted staffing is not what concerns patients most. A smaller workforce means that the current staff at NHS is overworked and at times stretched beyond their limits, leaving patients with less than ideal service. Exhausted workers may be unable to complete basic tasks with ease, such as dressing a wound or verifying medication intake and meal consumption. These everyday responsibilities of the doctors and nurses at NHS only get more taxing as understaffing continues, and patients cannot afford to bear the cost of medical mistakes and doctor or nurse burnout.
NHS Overspend extends Beyond Personnel
While the issue of staff exhaustion is complex, it is clear that the growing demand for healthcare within the country presents numerous issues for NHS leaders. The organization has a need to employ additional staff but faces already exorbitant spending rates that make that task a true challenge. Without the appropriate personnel to carry out quality care, patients – and the organization – face a multitude of costly issues.
One of the cost concerns surrounding the NHS understaffing crisis is the compounding issue of legal fees associated with patient complaints. As medical mistake claims rise due to decreased staffing levels and employee burnout, the total legal bill for NHS has the potential to soar. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke to this issue in a recent report, stating that poor care was to blame for the nearly £1.3bn spent on legal costs last year. Medical mistakes correlated to understaffing could lead to a contined cost of £2.5bn for the NHS, each year.
A representative from a leading firm of medical negligence solicitors, expands on the growing cost concerns with the NHS by pointing out the efficiencies within the NHS claims process. NHS has a complex process for investigating, assessing and ultimately resolving claims from patients which eats away at both valuable resources and time. The total bill for NHS seems to be on an upward trajectory without a clear solution in sight.
As the population continues to age, a greater demand for healthcare is imminent. Without a shift in priorities and an answer to the organization’s staffing crisis, the NHS and its patients are in for a bumpy, costly ride.