Welsh NHS staffing crisis goes under the microscope in Assembly debate

The Welsh Conservatives will hold an Assembly debate today, calling on the Welsh Government to address the staffing crisis affecting the Welsh NHS.

The debate calls on the Cabinet Secretary for Health to bring forward a comprehensive strategy to tackle staff recruitment and retention issues, and urges the government to outline measures to tackle low staff morale.


The motion in full proposes that the National Assembly for Wales:


  • Notes retention of the frontline workforce is a major challenge facing the NHS in Wales.
  • Believes the Welsh Government must outline its response to recent increases in the number of vacancies for doctors in the Welsh NHS.
  • Recognises, with concern, that stress-related illnesses are increasingly responsible for ambulance service staff being absent from work; and the impact this could have on the longer-term recruitment and retention of staff.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to implement a clear, comprehensive strategy which outlines how the Welsh Government will prioritise frontline staff recruitment and retention and tackle issues pertaining to low staff morale during the course of the Fifth Assembly.


It is widely agreed that delivering high quality healthcare is largely dependent upon a well-resourced and high performing workforce. However, recent figures obtained by the British Medical Association in March 2015 (BMA) suggested that high vacancy rates for Welsh NHS consultants.


Responses from LHBs and trusts showed an all-Wales vacancy rate of 6.8%, but some health boards experience much higher vacancies.


Hywel Dda University Health Board, for example, reported a 15.9% vacancy rate, with Public Health Wales at 15.6%.


Welsh Conservatives say that the staffing crisis has been exacerbated by rising Welsh NHS demand and compounded by Welsh Government spending cuts.


Demand on the NHS has grown at a faster rate than staffing levels – since 2009/10 demand on hospitals has risen by 2.5%, with the number of FTE Welsh NHS staff having increased by just 1.6% over the same period. [PEDW Data, Headline Figure, 2009/10 to 2014/15]


Meanwhile, poor funding decisions taken by the Welsh Labour Government led to a spending cut in real terms of 4.3% between 2009/10 and 2012/13. [House of Commons, NHS Wales Statistics, 2 March 2016]


Shadow Health Secretary, Angela Burns, said:


“The recruitment and retention of staff is one of the biggest challenges facing the Welsh NHS, with glaring holes in frontline staffing now affecting all health boards and most medical disciplines.


“The current predicament is to the obvious detriment of patient care, and is a legacy of years of cuts to Welsh NHS budget cuts by the Welsh Government.


“Worryingly, stress related illnesses and low staff morale are now making things worse, with an ever-increasing reliance on agency staff consuming NHS resources and merely passing the problem into the next financial year.


“A highly skilled and experienced workforce is needed to ensure that the Welsh NHS is able to provide effective, safe and value-for-money care in the future.

“The Welsh Labour Government must first acknowledge that the Welsh NHS is facing a staffing crisis, and the Cabinet Secretary needs to bring forward a clear and comprehensive strategy to tackle it.”

Chairman of BMA Welsh Council, Dr Phil Banfield said:

“BMA Cymru Wales welcome today’s debate on workforce issues within NHS Wales. We have long called for a whole-system approach to workforce planning across primary, community, secondary, public health and social care. This needs to take account not only current, but projected future demands.

 “We urgently need to see a long-term strategy for the NHS that addresses the workforce challenges we face in Wales.  BMA Cymru Wales has highlighted the need to have a vision of what healthcare in Wales will look like in the future, in order for Wales to plan to attract, train and retain the expert professionals needed to lead and deliver such services. 

 “In order to move forward effectively, it is essential for NHS data collection to be significantly improved. Adequate data on the medical workforce is necessary, not only for the effective delivery of current care, but also for sustainable planning and understanding the requirements for medical training provision. At the moment a lack of consistent and comparable data makes planning for present needs almost impossible, let alone the future.”

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