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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
More NHS vacancies being filled
Image of ward work
More consultants are taking up NHS posts in England
NHS vacancies in England are falling, latest government figures show.

Consultant vacancy rate went down from 4.4% in March 2004 to 3.3% in March 2005. GP vacancy rate went down from 3.1% to 2.4% in the same period.

Health Minister Lord Warner said an increase in staff numbers meant supply and demand was starting to tally.

There are now 31,210 consultants working in the NHS and 32,190 GPs, steady increases since government last checked in December 2004.

Mixed picture

The news came a week after the British Medical Association warned that junior doctors were facing the serious threat of unemployment because of a shortage of training jobs.

According to the Department of Health, the total number of consultants in England on 30 September 1997 was 21,474. By 31st March 2005 this figure was 31,210 - an increase of 9,736.

Demand for healthcare professionals is now beginning to match supply
Lord Warner

The number of GPs, excluding GP retainers and GP registrars, increased by 4,148 from 28,046 in 1997.

The three-month vacancy rate of qualified nursing vacancy rate (excluding practice nurses) also went down from 2.6% in March 2004 to 1.9% in March 2005 - a fifth successive fall.

Similarly, the shortage of qualified allied health professionals decreased from 4.3% to 3.4% and of qualified scientific, therapeutic and technical staff from 2.6% to 2.2%.

Lord Warner said: "The latest figures show fewer vacancies in all the main staff groups within the NHS.

"This suggests that the increased demand for healthcare professionals, which was created by the expansion of NHS services, is now beginning to match supply as more NHS jobs are filled."

Future challenges

He said the boost in staff numbers had helped improve heart and cancer care.

However, he said there was more work to be done.

"The challenge is to develop new ways of working so that staff can work more productively, delivering quality services that are centred on patients' needs."

The latest waiting lists figures for England showed waits of six months or more for operations were decreasing, but had not yet been abolished.

At the end of June there were 43,200 patients waiting longer than six months for treatment in English hospitals - down 6,400 since the end of May and 31,600 since June 2004.

Sixteen patients waited more than nine months - three over a year.

The total NHS waiting list stood at 823,900 - a fall of 2,300 since the end of May and down 61,800 since the same time last year.

Foluke Ajayi of NHS Employers said: "The reduced vacancy rates are a result of the hard work of employers to both bring new people into the NHS and to keep the staff they already have.

"The NHS is now a better employer than it has ever been."

More staff still needed

But she said it was not all good new. "The data shows that there are a number of areas where trusts are facing particular challenges recruiting staff. We are working with these trusts to help them fill their posts and to reduce their vacancy rates."

Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP, said: "While progress is welcome, it is clear that staff shortages are still a major headache for the NHS.

"Patients waiting months for their operation must find it particularly galling when they read stories of talented young doctors unable to get a job in the UK."

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee, said: "While we welcome any increase there is in overall GP numbers, there is a worrying standstill in the GP Registrar figures.

"These GPs in training form the new life-blood of the profession and their numbers should be significantly expanding to match the increasing demands on family doctors as services switch from hospital care to the community."


SEE ALSO:
Plan to boost GPs 'needs money'
25 Jul 05 |  Health


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