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NHS lacks workforce data for planning, says report



King's Fund study highlights the need for new datasets in response to changes in healthcare provision

The NHS needs new data on its workforce to deal with shortcomings in long term planning, a leading research charity has claimed.

The King's Fund, which focuses its work on policy and practice in healthcare, has made the assertion in its Workforce planning in the NHS report. It says the data used has not kept up with changes in the workforce and that this is making it more difficult to analyse trends and cope with shifts in demand.

"The information needed to guide workforce planning at local and national levels has failed to keep pace with the growing plurality of providers delivering NHS-commissioned services," it says.

It says the gaps in data are particularly pronounced in four areas:

  • primary and community care, with problems in collecting workforce data and little information on the quality of services outside the acute sector;
  • agency and bank staff, with no comprehensive picture of the full extent of the temporary clinical workforce;
  • vacancy rates, leaving a gap in the ability to assess the balance between supply and demand; and
  • independent and voluntary sector providers, most of which are excluded from the dataset provided by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The report says the last is particularly significant, given the increasing use of staff from the independent sector.

Overall there has been too heavy a reliance on data from surveys, commissioned research, Freedom of Information requests and anecdotal evidence.

"The gaps in timely, routine data sources are likely to have contributed to the current difficulties in workforce planning, because some emerging issues - such as the rise in spending on agency staff and shortage of GPs - only become visible once they have become a major problem," the report says.

It deals with a number of issues affecting workforce planning in the NHS, including new models of care, the demands of training and the widespread reliance on a temporary workforce.

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