Commenting on today’s NHS Staff Survey results, Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:

‘The results of today’s NHS Staff Survey are, sadly, not unexpected. Having worked without respite during the pandemic, the NHS workforce is understandably exhausted and feeling the pressure. More staff reported illness due to work-related stress, while fewer are satisfied with the standard of care they can provide amid growing concerns about vacancies.

‘While the government's objective is now to "live with COVID", the pandemic has not gone away, emergency care continues to experience historic pressure and waiting lists are at a record high. Our updated analysis has found that to meet the 18-week referral target the NHS would need an extra 6,200 consultants and 25,700 nurses by the end of this parliament.* This is over and above existing NHS vacancies, which recently increased to over 110,000.**

‘These findings, alongside the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, which showed public satisfaction with the NHS is at its lowest recorded level since 1997, are a cause for concern. There appears to be no public appetite for radical reform of the NHS, but the public and staff are sending a clear message that the government must take action to address staff shortages. And with so many staff suffering burnout, it is crucial the government and system leaders support the health and wellbeing of the workforce and prioritises staff recovery alongside wider service recovery.

‘A fully funded workforce strategy is urgently needed. MPs will today vote on an amendment to the NHS Bill which will require the Secretary of State to publish independently verified assessments of past and future NHS workforce needs. It is vital that MPs support this amendment if we are to finally address this issue which is so central to the future sustainability of the health service.’


* In September 2021, the REAL Centre projected that clearing the elective backlog, treating 75% of missing patient referrals and returning to the constitutional waiting times target by the end of this parliament would require 4,400 additional consultants and 18,300 nurses. Since then, the Omicron wave has put the brakes on the NHS elective recovery, the number of missing patient referrals has grown, and time has been lost. To do the same by the end of the parliament would now require an extra 6,200 consultants and 25,700 nurses.

However, with continued uncertainty over returning missing patient referrals, the government in its Elective Recovery Plan committed to a more cautious course of action based on tackling long waits and increasing activity by 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels by 2024/25. The NHS would also make greater use of advice and guidance and deliver fewer follow-up outpatient appointments. Even this would require a much larger workforce; the REAL Centre estimates this would need 14,000 more nurses and 3,400 more consultants than pre-pandemic.

But this is only the elective workforce. As the Omicron wave has shown, rises in emergency demand and challenges discharging patients from hospital can severely constrain health care activity. The NHS cannot function optimally without addressing staffing needs across emergency and elective services, but also in community care, mental health, primary care, and adult social care.

** This is based on vacancy statistics from NHS Digital, which show that full-time equivalent (FTE) staff vacancies in the NHS Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS) in England stood at 110,192 in the quarter to December 2021 (reflecting an overall workforce vacancy rate of 8.3%). This is the highest number since April – June 2019 (when FTE vacancies stood at 111,864).

Media contact

Emily Wilson
020 7257 2093

Further reading

Press release

Fully funded workforce strategy needs to be central to NHS recovery plans 

10 March 2022
Press release

The Health Foundation response to the March 2022 release of the NHS's monthly performance...


Health and social care funding projections 2021

October 2021

The REAL Centre sets out projections of the funding the NHS and social care system in England may...

REAL Centre

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