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Data and charts

Staff shortages

Given England’s growing and ageing population, the NHS and social care sector need a lot of staff to deliver high-quality health care or social care at the required volume.

But in both sectors there are staff shortages – a difference between the number of posts in the sector and the number of posts that are filled. This shortage in staff can be seen by looking at vacancy rates. In September 2023, the overall NHS vacancy rate was 8.4%, or 121,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles. In 2022/23, the overall social care vacancy rate was 9.9%, or 152,000 roles. These are both substantially higher than the overall UK vacancy rate of 3.4% in 2022/23.

As well as recruitment, holding on to existing staff is an issue, with 10.7% (154,000) leaving their NHS role in the year ending September 2023, and 28.3% (390,000) leaving their social care role in 2022/23. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan aims to increase recruitment and retention, thereby reducing staff shortages and lessening the pressure on the system.

Vacancies by region

The overall NHS vacancy rate masks variation by region, from 11.5% in London to 6.2% in the South West. Since September 2018, changes in the vacancy rates have ranged from a 0.2 percentage point increase in the North East and Yorkshire to a 3.3 percentage point decrease in the East of England. For social care, the highest vacancy rate in 2022/23 was in London (12.1%), while the lowest was in Yorkshire and the Humber (8%). There are also variations within regions, with particular difficulties in recruitment into coastal areas and more deprived areas, for example.

NHS vacancy rates vary by region
Social care vacancy rates vary by region

Vacancies by sector

The NHS sector with the highest vacancy rate is mental health – currently 11.7%. Since 2018, the vacancy rate has fallen in the acute sector but risen in all other sectors, most of all in the ambulance sector, where the vacancy rate increased from 6.3% in 2018 to 8.7% in 2023.

In the NHS, mental health has a consistently higher vacancy rate than other sectors

For social care, the independent sector currently has a higher vacancy rate than the local authority sector – 9.9% and 8.1%, respectively. By service, vacancy rates are consistently higher for non-residential care, compared with residential or nursing.

Social care vacancy rates are higher in the independent sector and for non-residential care

Staff shortages by role

NHS vacancy statistics are only routinely available for doctors and nurses, and show a substantially higher vacancy rate for the latter. For social care, vacancies are higher for direct care workers and professionals than for managers or supervisors.

While vacancy data is not available for allied health professionals on a similar basis to the figures reported above for some other staff groups, high vacancy rates and staff shortages have also been reported for these professionals, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Vacancies vary by role, both in the NHS and in social care

Recruitment

These high vacancy rates exist despite extensive international recruitment into both the NHS and social care – around 1 in 5 staff in both sectors have a non-British nationality, a proportion that has increased in recent years. For more information on international recruitment, see:

National recruitment is also increasing; medicine and nursing university acceptances have gone up since 2019, although the number of nursing acceptances fell between 2022 and 2023. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan aims to increase this recruitment further, doubling the number of medical school places by 2031/32, and increasing the nursing training intake by more than 10,000.

University acceptance rates have generally increased since 2019, and training places are planned to increase in the future

Recruitment is also expanding for more recently created roles. For example, in nursing, the number of nursing associates joining the nursing register in England between April and September 2023 was 203% higher than new registrants from October to March 2019, compared with a 55% increase in nurses over the same period. The Long Term Workforce Plan aims to continue this increase in recruitment of newer roles, and to provide 22% of all training for clinical staff through apprenticeship routes by 2031/32, an increase from 7% currently.