The NHS in Wales is “running on fumes” as nearly 3,000 vacancies for healthcare staff go unfilled

The NHS in Wales is “running on fumes” as nearly 3,000 vacancies for healthcare staff go unfilled in figures revealed by the Welsh Conservatives.


Vacancies for 2,201 nurses and midwives, along with 771 medical and dental professionals, are adding increased pressure to the Welsh NHS as it begins to deal with backlogs in waiting lists which doubled before the pandemic and have since increased by nearly nine times during the crisis.


The highest number of nursing vacancies were present in North Wales’ beleaguered Betsi Cadwaladr heath board, which accounted for just under a third (698 or 32%) of these. Meanwhile, Dyfed’s Hywel Dda Health Board had the highest number of medical and dental vacancies (276).


There is a shortage of at least 162 allied health professionals – those who provide healthcare but are distinct to doctors and nurses such as osteopaths, physiotherapists, and dietitians – across Wales.


It was also revealed that £144m was spent since 2016/17 on overtime for on these categories of NHS staff, although Hywel Dda refused to disclose figures. The pandemic likely contributed to the 26.4% rise in overtime spend between 2019/20 and the following year.


Betsi Cadwaladr was responsible for half of spending on overtime payments for these workers (£72m), further showing the endemic nature of the issues that have beset the board despite being taken out of special measures, and direct ministerial control, shortly before the Senedd election.


When taking into account other NHS workers who do not directly deliver healthcare such as estate officers, backroom staff, healthcare scientists, and administrators, there was an additional £46.8m spent on overtime in the last five years. Including these workers, overtime spend was 30% higher in 2020/21 than the previous year. There are 407 vacancies for these types of staff across Wales.


Final figures are likely to be much higher as Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, which covers the central Valleys, failed to respond to the information request; Cardiff and Vale Health Board did not give numbers of allied health staff vacancies; and Powys Health Board would not provide details for allied health, medical, nor dental vacancies.


The news comes shortly after Conservative research exposed the £1.3bn bill Welsh health boards had to pay to cover these gaps in staffing through hiring agency and bank healthcare workers.


Commenting on the figures, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS, 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 poor management by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay.


“To have thousands of vacancies in a nation of Wales’s size is a sign of confusion and complacency at the top of government – and that rests with Labour.


“We need a recruitment and retention strategy with real teeth because it is evident the one in place by Labour ministers is totally ineffective and has putting our NHS at breaking point.


“Over the past two decades, the Labour Government has overseen a brain drain and managed decline in our public services making them an unattractive place to work – a lethal mix which is currently placing immense strain on our NHS.”

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