Knowledge & Insight

UK healthcare in crisis?

Wed 21 March 2018

It doesn’t require in-depth analysis to determine that the failure to provide adequate funding to the NHS has resulted in a position where demand for UK healthcare services surpasses the level of supply. And this growing crisis, as experienced by patients in virtually every hospital in the country, is increasingly front page news. Of course, this problem is not unique to the UK, but it is particularly acute here, as staffing levels and bed numbers have been steadily eroded over time, while the population of our cities has continued to grow quickly. The UK today employs fewer nurses per capita than most developed nations, and this low ratio of nurses to patients is worsened by the fact that a significant proportion of vacancies remain unfilled in the medium to long term.

Defining the challenge

The shortfall in NHS funding is felt most sharply by the public, as the shortage of skilled staff limits service providers’ ability to meet patients’ needs. There are severe staff shortfalls in many clinical specialities, particularly so for operating theatre practitioners  and in emergency care and intensive care. Skills shortages in these areas are perhaps the most visible, yet the impact of the lack of overall hands-on care can be just as serious. The lack of funding not only hits staffing levels, but has a serious impact on other areas of the health service, such as buildings infrastructure, IT systems, staff training and equipment. And the lack of investment in these areas generates additional long-term problems.

Emerging challenges

The UK’s changing demographic profile is often cited as the major source of the crisis. Yet just as our aging population has a dramatic impact on the demand side, the aging NHS workforce has a similar negative impact on the supply side. But it’s not just a numbers game – there are also the cultural changes to consider. As millennials take up the reins, employers in many sectors are finding their staff have very different expectations than the previous generation, in terms of work/life balance, flexibility, and reward and remuneration. And at least some of the blame for the failure to attract sufficient people into the healthcare sector must lie with policymakers and with senior healthcare leaders.

The future of healthcare

Although this analysis presents a rather bleak picture for the future of healthcare in the UK, there are a number of positive factors to consider, not least the commitment, dedication and skill of our healthcare practitioners. Staff continually demonstrate an eagerness to devise and implement innovative new approaches to dealing with the challenges they face. And these positive assets must be harnessed if the sector is to survive in any recognizable form. To meet the challenges that lie ahead, we must see greater collaboration between service providers in order to deliver a more co-ordinated approach to healthcare. New digital technologies must be utilized to facilitate new models of care, and intelligent workforce management systems must match the supply of skills and resources with demand.

Stone Executive has an outstanding track-record of helping clients attract the brightest talent in the healthcare sector, and our healthcare executive headhunters are ideally placed to identify and engage high-calibre candidates for a wide range of senior leadership and board level roles.

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