From BMA to legal experts, international recruiters to common man, everyone except the UK government has the foresight of the ongoing staff shortage across the UK, especially in the healthcare sector. Asian Voice decodes what this means for the future of Britain’s workforce.

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 04th January 2022 13:54 EST

The UK government on Tuesday reported a record of more than 200,000 coronavirus cases as Omicron strain surged through the country. The government is preparing for mass staff shortages due to the staggering rise in Omicron cases. In “worst-case scenarios” staff absences could be as high as 25 per cent. Data suggests that up to a quarter of the public sector’s workforce may be absent in the coming weeks. 


NHS bosses have warned of a “health emergency” because of high levels of staff shortages. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that staff shortages and an increase in hospitalisations were exacerbating an estimated 100,000 staff vacancies in the health service. On Boxing Day, a staggering 24,632 personnel in acute NHS trusts were absent due to Covid. For instance, 11 per cent of the staff of Iceland tested positive and was isolated during the holiday season. 


Data suggests that the NHS including nurses and doctors and other health care professionals there are about 250,000 staff vacancies, of which roughly 50% may belong to the private sector businesses. 


Amid "extreme and unprecedented" staff shortages, a hospital in Lincolnshire had to declare ‘a critical incident’ and take additional steps to maintain services.


Sajid Javid has rolled out a new volunteer scheme nationwide this year under which tens of thousands of NHS “reservists” will be recruited to bolster the health service’s workforce. According to Telegraph, the expansion comes after NHS chiefs have warned of severe staff shortages, with reports that 110,000 people – nearly one in 10 of the workforce – were off on New Year’s Eve, of whom 50,000 were either sick or self-isolating with Covid.


A report by BMA in mid-2021 had revealed that the medical workforce would need 285,343 full-time doctors for the NHS workers by 2043. Back then, there were about 201,564 full-time doctors, which meant, that there was an estimated gap of 83,779 full-time doctors. 

Contradicting Brexit


In the current scenario, it is doubtful whether Europeans would come to the UK for a one-year-long visa to do jobs at minuscule costs by putting in long hours to make up for the labour shortage in the country. 


Many legal experts proposed to the government, asking to add care workers to the list. They knew that not just the NHS, but also care homes and nursing homes would struggle to find the staff once the world begins to go back to the new normal. It was a short-sighted decision on part of the government to assume that empty care homes would not need staff once the country re-opens when the elderly and Covid orphans would need care and shelter. 


The large number of care workers that used to come from Eastern Europe or other European countries, were mostly not formally qualified health care workers. 


Today, the process for qualified nurses to come to the UK and to start practising as a nurse is extremely difficult due to two main reasons: Frist, they need to first meet the English language requirement which is ‘way over ambitious’, second, they’re not paid enough as immigrants to survive and match up to the efforts they put in. 


While natives would probably be paid higher wages per hour, eg: £10, experienced care staff would end up earning just 6p an hour more than those new to the role, Skills for Care has revealed.


As a solution to the problem, Mathew Philip, one of the Founding Partners at Silk Route Legal said, “We suggested to bring in down the level of English language required for the to be a nurse and to be registered and ask them to have two years training contract or training with the nursing in care homes through nurses who are seriously considering care and health care as a profession as a career. At least those two years would help the nursing homes and care homes. I don't think the government or the home office would accept it. We tried our best last year when this was introduced, but they completely ignored it. The government is always being reactive than proactive.”


Legal experts like Mathew believe that adding care work to the skill shortage list would have solved many problems and qualified nurses from India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, others other countries could have been recruited. 


Since the government doesn't give you all the information. You have to try and read between the lines. Working backwards, it seems to ask that it's a one year only visa. If you're asking people to uproot themselves from it doesn't matter where in the world it is questionable if they going to be interested to come to the UK on a 12-month visa without knowing what happens at the end of 12 months. For example, during the renewal of visas during the worst of Covid, the Home Office would not renew people's visas.


Public vs private sector


The healthcare option has been available ever since the skills shortage list was put together. But the problem is trying to get engagement from both the public sector and the private sector. 


Chris Slay, Director of Skills Provision (a recruitment firm) elaborated in detail what staff shortages mean to the UK and what consequences Britain will face, as we currently see the tip of the iceberg. 


He said, “The public sector being the NHS has so much bureaucracy, that you can't actually get things to move forward with them on any form of volume recruitment. They have failed to respond to various initiatives since April of 2020. And that doesn't seem as though it is changing. They act that we are an approved supplier to the NHS. But can we get a specific contract to supply the NHS? The answer is we've been unsuccessful to date, you start off the process, and then it sorts of wither on the vine,” said Chris. 


“So as a commercial operation, you decide enough is enough, and it is a false investment of your time to try and work with the NHS until they are in a position to respond professionally. That leaves us with the private sector, desperate for staff, but they have no money. And I'm willing to pay the recruitment fees, the visa fees, and so on and so forth. So, any moderation as those costs help.


“And it meant the loss of talented healthcare staff were forced to leave the UK or is unknown. And obviously, there's nervousness about anything to do with coming to the UK is not just healthcare, that's the way the UK has chosen to interact with foreign nationals generally. So, we recruit across the spectrum. We're experiencing the same situation with chefs, engineers and the rest.” 


What Britain needs right now will take about correcting a generation of neglect in the care sector in the UK. This implies that young kids must opt to go into some skills-based type of education, and then through university and all the rest of it and come out the other end with qualifications required by society. 


Improvise visa process


The recruitment fee is a minimum of £2500 +VAT per candidate and Visa Processing and government costs at least £2500. This is based on a 2-year contract.  48 hours a week at £10.26 an hour is equal to about £1 per hour. This means that rules need to be in favour of both the employer and the employee and other middlemen involved. 


It is uncomfortable for firms to recommend to anybody that they should come to the UK on a one-year visa, without knowing what is going to happen to them at the end of the year. 


Vaccines Minister hasn't got a clue on staff shortages


Responding to Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup's comments - in which she could not say how NHS trusts have declared a 'critical incident', nor how many former teachers have returned to teaching - Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said, “If ever proof was needed that the Government is asleep at the wheel with this staff shortage crisis, the Vaccine Minister's non-answers this morning just about sum it up. Our hospitals are at breaking point and schools are spread thin, yet hapless Ministers haven't got a clue about the true extent of the problems in these settings. It’s high time the Government gets a grip on this. Families deserve reassurance that their children's education won't be disrupted and that loved ones can get the care they need when they need it."


In an official statement, Karuna Manor told Asian Voice, “Karuna Manor management is pleased with the announcement by the government on Christmas Eve that care workers and care assistants are to become eligible for Health and Care Visa. This initiative acknowledges that there is a huge shortage of care workers in the UK. This move will make it more viable and hopefully easier for social care employers to recruit eligible workers from around the world to fill vital gaps. Eligible care workers from India and Africa and other parts of the world should be encouraged to apply for care jobs in the UK by friends and family who are already in this country.”


Homeschooling could also return amid fears over teacher shortages due to Covid. 

Alarming rate of vacancies in the healthcare sector


Rohit Sagoo, Founder of British Sikh Nurses reacted by saying, “There is an alarming rate of vacancies in the healthcare sector with around 40,000 nursing vacancies alone. This places relentless demand on nurses and nursing teams currently in practice and this is deepened by the everchanging covid crisis. There is an urgency to fill the vacancies as soon a possible to ensure that patients and communities attain the care that they need, not forgetting to cover the many nurses who are leaving the profession. Whatsmore, while healthcare professionals battle with covid, an evergrowing backlog of treatments continues to spiral. Combining the rise in nurse vacancies and treatments the government faces an urgent task in nurse recruitment and though overseas nurses are being drafted in, there needs to be more emphasis on developing homegrown talent from the UK. 


“It is well-known that pay, conditions, and workloads have been at the heart of the nursing debate with the government for many years, and for things to improve, it is vital that the government implement these changes in order to sustain a nursing workforce. The hourly rates being offered to nurses aren't justified as many nurses are sometimes working overtime for free in order to keep vital services running. The most important thing is to recognise is that our nurses are brunt out, they are consistently doing 12 hours shifts as there are staff shortages and not enough cover for patient care and services. This gives rise to questioning the quality of care and patient safety which is of paramount importance to every nurse.”

Brexit and Covid-19


The staff shortage issue is of a combination of different aspects like Brexit and Covid-19. Listing them, Prabhu Sudharsan of Dosa Kitchen in Newcastle said, “A lot of the staff who were working as Kitchen porters and chefs have left the UK after Brexit which we are finding it very difficult to fill in those positions. During the lockdown many chefs and waiting staff found jobs at supermarkets, Amazon and warehouses, at those times those industries were booming and they were able to pay much better, so a lot of the chefs took those jobs to keep the family going. We thought they are taking it only as a temporary measure, but when the restaurant and hospitality open fully those chefs were not ready to come back as they felt those industries are much better with social hours and lesser pressure jobs even though they have to physically work more.” 


Chef Jomon Kuriakose at The Lalit in London said, “As hospitality professionals, we face staffing issues on both ends. One, it’s challenging to get the right candidate. Second, it’s hard to hold the right people at work due to massive booking cancellations and a steep business.”


The World Health Organization reckon that there's a global shortage at the moment that has 6 million nurses. Therefore, everybody is competing for the same people. In a nutshell, if immigrants face pay disparity for the same or more amount of work as their native counterparts, along with stringent language requirements and no promise of renewal of their work visas, this will not just paint a miserable picture of Britain in the eyes of the world, but also look like “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. 

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