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NHS workforce crisis and recruitment challenges in 2021

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In the face of the crippling third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing pressures to meet vaccination targets, the NHS is facing a pressing workforce crisis in 2021. Even before the pandemic hit, the UK public health sector was already subject to underfunding and added pressures from the increasing demands of an ageing population, not to mention inadequate support from an equally underfunded social care system. 


Further compounding these issues is the reality of Brexit, which is likely to make the UK a far less attractive proposition for foreign workers. With potential barriers to entry for immigrant workers, a lack of clarity surrounding post-Brexit employment legislation and the declining value of the pound acting as a further deterrent, the fragile health and social care sectors could be hit hard.


Even without the additional complications of COVID-19 and Brexit, demand for staff in the health and social care sectors is always high, with trusts struggling to fill posts and routinely falling short of meeting staffing targets. When viewed alongside the increasing demands placed on services in recent months, the reality is clear: the NHS is facing a recruitment crisis. So, what can be done?


Recruitment of health and social care staff

A recent report by the NHS Confederation entitled, ‘COVID-19 and the health and care workforce: supporting our greatest asset’ underlines the importance of supporting NHS staff and taking necessary action to relieve them from some of the immense pressure under which they currently find themselves: 


“NHS leaders need resources and investment to make sustained headway on vacancy levels.”


The report urges the government to facilitate the augmentation of staffing levels in areas where they are needed most, for example mental health. The government, in their 2020 Spending Review, have committed to spending an additional £3 billion on COVID-19 relief, including £1 billion to address backlogs in elective procedures and reduce waiting lists, in addition to further investment in key areas such as mental health. 


If these goals are to be met, this additional funding must be used to support existing healthcare workers by recruiting staff to vacant posts.


Declining numbers of GPs

Even before the NHS was crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers of practising GPs were already on the decline, as a result of a combination of factors such as complex pension tax rules pushing GPs in their 50’s into early retirement; problems with recruitment and retention; difficulty recruiting GPs from overseas (which is likely to be amplified by Brexit) and an increasing preference among qualified GPs for a portfolio career.

According to figures from NHS digital, there was a net loss of 489 qualified, full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs between September 2018 and September 2019, amounting to a 1.75% decrease year-on-year.

Whilst the pandemic brought a significant number of returning GPs and locums back into the workforce via the NHS 111 Coronavirus Clinical Assessment Service and initiatives such as ‘Team GP vs Covid’, it’s important that the NHS capitalises on this return to flexible working moving forward, in order to retain as many returning staff as possible.

Workforce planning

Despite government targets aimed at reducing the reliance on agency staff, there is an acceptance at the national level that the NHS cannot function effectively without them during the current pandemic. Whilst spending remains a critical issue for the NHS, cost-effective solutions do exist which can support better workforce planning and quick access to qualified staff. 


Improving staff retention

Retention of new recruits and existing staff members is one of the most important factors for maintaining adequate staffing levels during the pandemic and beyond. In order to achieve this, the NHS and social care providers need to make it easy for applicants to re-enter the workforce, revalidate credentials and complete the on-boarding process quickly and easily. This will not only support health and social care providers by simplifying processes and speeding up recruitment, but making the process simpler for candidates will also dramatically improve retention rates.


How Credentially can help

Credentially’s recruitment, on-boarding and credentialing software platform was created by healthcare professionals, with the needs of both recruiters and candidates in mind. Our easy-to-use platform eliminates many of the challenges associated with health and social care recruitment; facilitating mobile sign-up, combating lengthy delays and making the hiring process as simple and efficient as possible. 


Our platform provides full automation of:



Saving you money, thousands of wasted clinical hours and dramatically improving the recruitment journey for new and returning applicants.


If you’re looking for support with recruitment, on-boarding, regulatory compliance and staff retention, then it’s time you spoke to us. If you have ten minutes to spare, then book a tour of our platform, or take a quick look at our case studies to find out how we’ve empowered other clients to transform their recruitment, on-boarding and compliance processes.


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