Published: 16:44, 28 July 2020
| Updated: 16:48, 28 July 2020
Additional reporting from Harriet Clugston, RADAR AI
The number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff employed at the hospital trusts in Kent increased in April during the first peak of the coronavirus crisis.
While the Government has praised the contribution made by new healthcare workers across England during the pandemic, experts say action is needed to address recruitment concerns long term.
NHS workforce figures show there were 3,372 members of staff – including doctors and nurses as well as therapeutic or technical staff – employed at the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust in April, 42 more than during March.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust 9,756 members of staff had increased by 95 and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust had increased by 54 in April.
The biggest increase in workers was among those in clinical support roles which included those who were directly supporting doctors and nurses.
The NHS says many new starters in this group will have been student doctors or nurses who were fast tracked into employment to help fight the virus.
Only two of the hospital trusts saw a minor decrease in staff. There were 2,188 qualified medical staff employed at the Medway NHS Foundation Trust in April, 16 fewer than during March.
The Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust had 2,254 qualified medical staff employed in April, three fewer than the previous month.
There was no change in the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, who has 1,476 qualified medical staff employed.
But across England, the figures show there were 12,839 extra members of NHS staff in April, of whom 3,008 were professionally qualified clinical staff such as doctors and nurses.
That is compared to a rise of just 3,265 between March and April last year – although the increase then was entirely in non-clinical roles.
Among the recruits in April were 1,151 new Foundation Year 1 doctors, who are junior doctors just graduated from medical school. Many final-year medical students were fast-tracked into employment to help fight the virus.
There were also 8,687 new support workers assisting doctors and nurses. Almost 90% of the 4,878 fast-tracked student doctors and nurses captured in the employment figures were recorded in this group.
Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the British Medical Association consultants committee, said doctors had been working "tirelessly on the front line" in unprecedented circumstances during the pandemic.
He said: "This includes those at both the very beginning and ends of their medical careers, with medical students volunteering in support roles, junior doctors fast-tracking their qualification and retired doctors returning.
“However, the last few months have taken their toll on doctors, who have worked long hours often in unfamiliar settings, leaving many exhausted and burned out."
Health think tank the Nuffield Trust said the NHS faces problems with retention, overseas recruitment, and sickness absences due to stress or burnout in the wake of the crisis.
Dr Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at the think tank, said: "What is crucial now is that we persuade these new staff to stay by giving them good prospects and a positive environment.
"We can't let a wave of people coming in turn into a wave of people leaving in a few years' time."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This pandemic has shown how proud the entire country is of all our brave health and care workers, and what an essential role they play in society.
"We made the commitment of 50,000 more nurses by end of this Parliament, and I’m determined we will meet it."
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