Why Is There a Shortage of Healthcare Workers in the UK?

The NHS is facing chronic staff shortages.

In this post we’ll discuss some of the problematic areas, and explore some of the root causes for the shortages.

Which Roles are Facing Shortages?


Before the 2020 pandemic, the UK was already facing a shortage of around 50,000 nurses. In December 2020, the Health Foundation said that the government will need to exceed its target of 50,000 new nurses in England by 2024/2025 if the NHS is to fully recover.

General Practitioners (GPs)

Official figures in March 2022 showed that one in 17 doctors’ posts – 5.8% in total – are unfilled.

These same figures suggested that the total number of unfilled posts across health services had risen to 110,192.


According to one report, at the end of 2020 there were 23,733 dentists providing care in England. By the end of January 2022, this figure had fallen to 21,544.

For more on the dentist shortage, read our full analysis of the shortage of NHS dentists.

Care Staff

One report suggests that 8.2% of care roles are unfilled. This amounts to a shortage of around 100,000 carers. A shortage of carers mean that many patients are “stuck” in hospital. They cannot be discharged because there isn’t the care staff to support them outside of hospital.

So a shortage of care workers will worsen the wider crisis in healthcare through limiting the number of hospital beds available.

What’s Causing The Shortage of Healthcare Staff?

A few factors are contributing to the shortage of healthcare staff.

  • The Pandemic – Most figures indicate that there were already staff shortages even before the pandemic begun. But Covid-19 compounded things, leading to an immense backlog of care. There may simply be more patients and more procedures than the workforce can manage.
  • Working conditions – Low pay, high pressure, and burnout from heavy workloads is causing many healthcare workers to quit. This is also why UK healthcare has seen industrial action in late 2022 and early 2023.
  • Recruitment – Regular news stories about the dire conditions healthcare workers face may discourage many from starting a career in healthcare. Brexit also contributed to a substantial drop in healthcare workers coming to the UK from EU countries.
  • Policies and Management – The government removed the nursing bursary in 2015. The Royal College of Nursing claim this was a key reason why nurse numbers dropped in the years leading up to the pandemic. Though the government would later partially reverse this policy, the damage may already be done.

What Are The Plans To Address These Shortages?

Official figures in October 2022 suggested that there have been slight rises in staffing across multiple healthcare sectors. But this increase in staffing will not be enough to meet demands.

Long-Term Workforce Plan

In November 2022, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made a pledge for a long-term workforce plan for the NHS. This plan does not appear to have been published yet.

Cross-Party Coalition

There have been calls for a cross-party coalition to address the situation. The suggestion is a “war-footing”. Public buildings could be converted into pop-up healthcare services so that volunteers could relieve some of the burden on ambulances and hospitals. Retired doctors and nurses could be encouraged to return to work, and “private sector hospitals and clinics should be commandeered.”

But a trio of healthcare specialists have released a statement against such drastic action. They point out that any workers returning to the fold would face “a bureaucratic mountain to climb”, and that the current political parties are so dysfunctional that collaboration seems impossible.

In the meantime healthcare services across the country are facing fresh job cuts and fresh industrial action.

Improving Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare Settings

Whilst we cannot help you address staff shortages in your hospital, we can help you to improve staff safety and well-being, and reduce theatre turnaround times.

Get in touch to talk to one of our experts today.