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Bleak winter for the NHS: More than 100,000 jobs are unfilled

Bleak winter for the NHS: More than 100,000 jobs are unfilled, trusts are £4.3billion in debt and 1,000 more patients are waiting a year for treatment than in 2017, report warns

  • NHS had 102,821 dr and nurses vacancies across its trusts at end of September
  • And 3,156 were waiting more than a year for treatment when summer ended
  • NHS Providers’ chief executive warns ‘this winter may be worse than the last’ 
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The NHS is set to face a bleak winter, a report suggests.

The health service had 102,821 vacancies for doctors and nurses across its trusts at the end of September, according to an NHS Improvement report.

The number of people waiting more than a year for treatment at the end of the summer was 3,156 – compared to 1,778 for the same period in 2017.

And trusts even announced they were £4.3billion in debt last quarter due to rising patient demand.  

‘All trusts are warning that, despite improvements, this coming winter is likely to be more challenging than the last,’ Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – the trade body that represents NHS services, said. 

‘The reality is, however hard trusts work, they cannot keep up with the growth in demand for care.’

The health service is set to face a bleak winter, an NHS Improvement report suggests (stock)

This comes after a quarter of a million more people visited A&E last summer than during the same period in 2017, figures show.

There were 940 more emergency admissions every day between July and September compared to the hot months of 2017.

A total of 6.18million people visited A&E last summer – which is 252,360, or 4.3 per cent, more than the same period in 2017.

The high A&E demand meant people had to wait longer for planned treatment, NHS Improvement said. 

The report also found NHS staff treated more emergency patients within the four-hour A&E standard – 5.52m compared with 5.34m for the previous quarter. 

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Mr Hopson said trusts must be given realistic financial and performance targets over the next year. He added the report’s figures ‘reflect a very difficult summer for trusts and their staff’.

‘[Staff] have worked flat out to grapple with an unholy combination of rapidly rising demand, an ongoing financial squeeze and a once-in-a-generation workforce shortage problem,’ he added.

‘Once again, trusts have delivered a heroic performance, treating more patients than ever before within the A&E target, improving discharge rates and continuing to deliver stretching levels of financial savings.  

‘We have to be honest about the demand and workforce pressures in front of us and what it will take to meet these challenges.  


Waiting times at over-stretched A&E units are at their worst level since records began, according to official figures in April 2018.

Experts said the NHS was in the grip of an ‘eternal winter’ and many hospitals are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented pressure. 

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit it was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.

Chiefs cancelled thousands of operations in a controversial move to ease pressure. And experts have suggested this may be the only option to stop a crisis next year. 

The latest monthly data from NHS England also shows that waiting times for routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements, are at their highest since 2004.  

And violent assaults on staff have risen by 10 per cent in a year – partly driven by frustration with waiting times. 

‘Trusts must be given realistic financial and operational performance targets next year that they can actually deliver. They must be properly funded to break the current cycle of ever worsening performance.

‘And we still need more urgent action to address workforce shortages.’

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, added: ‘The NHS is working flat out to ensure record numbers of patients get the care they need. Frontline staff and managers deserve tremendous praise for their heroism.

‘But this achievement continues to come at a cost with performance targets not being met nationally and hospitals being unable to balance their books to cover the increased demand on their services.

‘The long-term plan is our opportunity to fundamentally redesign how the NHS works so that it can continue to provide high-quality care for patients.’

Trusts have identified savings they can make throughout the year and are planning to end 2018 £80m better off than they were at the start of the financial year, the report added.

At the end of the year, the sector forecasts a deficit of £558m, according to NHS Improvement, which is responsible for overseeing foundation trusts, NHS trusts and independent providers that provide NHS-funded care.  

The long-term plan for the NHS, which is being led by NHS Improvement and NHS England, is expected to be published next month.

NHS Improvement said it will ‘set out a clear path to recovery’ to both sustain and improve patient care in England over the next decade.

The plan will include how the £20.5b of additional funding from the Government will be spent over the next five years from April.

It will focus on preventing ill health and a commitment to invest £3.5b a year in primary and community healthcare services to cut avoidable hospital admissions and help patients return home sooner.


Mrs May finally apologised to patients who faced a delay on January 4

Prime Minister Theresa May finally apologised to patients who faced a delay on January 4, after it was announced 55,000 operations will be postponed.

The unprecedented move to cancel non-urgent procedures to free up beds and frontline staff was made by NHS bosses. 

The decision prompted an apology from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday, following pressure from his critics that he was ‘running scared’. 

Mrs May apologised during a visit today to Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, one of many trusts affected by the NHS move to cancel procedures.

After refusing to accept the NHS was in a crisis the day before, she said: ‘I know it’s difficult, I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s disappointing for people, and I apologise.’

Her comments followed official data which showed record numbers of patients are being forced to wait in ambulances for treatment.

Some 16,900 people were forced to wait for more than 30 minutes in ambulances to be seen by staff at A&E over the Christmas week – the highest total this winter.


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