Five forces driving the UK’s clinical skills gap

Five forces driving the UK’s clinical skills gap
“Ticking time bomb”. “Staffing crisis”. “Brain drain”. These are just a few of the ways the media has described the UK’s clinical skills gap in recent months.

To ensure patients receive safe and effective treatment, it’s vital that we close this skills gap. After all, without the required numbers of front-line staff, neither the NHS nor private healthcare providers will be equipped to deliver the healthcare services that our lives depend on.

Major transformations are needed to ensure the healthcare sector can meet future healthcare demands. As a result, both the NHS and private healthcare providers need to look at their approach to talent afresh. They need to review their short and long-term approach to how they attract and secure new recruits; nurture and retain existing workers; and how they organise their overall workforce too.

But, first things first. Before we can address this skills crisis, we need to understand its root cause – the micro and macro-level forces that drive today’s clinical skills gap. Let’s take a look at five of the key forces in more detail:

1. The population is ageing

According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, people aged 85 or more make up just 2% of the population. However, they constitute almost one in five (18%) of hospital bed days. As the UK’s population continues to age, this trend is forecast to increase. Whilst the ageing population is testament to the quality of care our healthcare system provides, this same healthcare system is set to feel the strain. After all, the longer individuals live, the more treatment they’re likely to require – so the more staff the healthcare system will need to deliver it.

2. The clinical workforce is ageing too

Nurses in the UK have an average age of 42 years old, with the age profile steadily growing older over the last 20 years. Added to this, the Institute for Employment Studies found that 29% of nurses are aged over 50. When these workers come to retire, who will plug the gap? It’s vital the sector takes action now to build and maintain a robust talent pipeline that will overcome the future loss of these skills.

3. The rate of obesity continues to rise

A study commissioned by consultancy firm McKinsey found that the UK spends around £6 billion a year on the medical costs of conditions related to being overweight or obese. If the current trend continues, this could rise to £10-12 billion in 2030. Cost aside, these illnesses take many clinical hours to treat. This puts an additional burden on the healthcare sector to find and retain the skills required to deliver this care.

4. Bursaries are being replaced with loans

The average drop-out rate among nursing students at universities in England is more than 20%. On some courses, the attrition rate is as high as 50%. Yet the Government is set to replace bursaries with loans for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. With attrition rates already so high, it’s hard to see how the prospect of accruing thousands of pounds worth of debt will support in bringing these numbers down.

5. Future immigration policy is unclear

Both the NHS and private healthcare providers draw from overseas talent pools in order to find the qualified clinicians they require. In fact, the research mentioned earlier from the Institute for Employment Studies found that 13% of nurses in the UK come from overseas. In light of Brexit, it’s unclear what the UK’s immigration policies will look like after Article 50 has been implemented. Consequently it’s also unclear how this vital source of talent will be affected.

Now’s the time to act. Partnering with both the NHS and private healthcare provides alike, we’re the UK’s largest recruiter of permanent doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in the UK. In the last year alone, we recruited 1,750+ clinically qualified professionals for clients nationwide, drawn from a base of practitioners with an existing ‘right to work’.

Find out more about our recruitment expertise in the healthcare sector.