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NHSE not recruiting to 900 vacancies despite staff ‘frustration’

Published on: 26 Feb 2024

NHS England will “hold back” nearly 900 posts in its new structure, despite many staff currently being at risk of redundancy and looking to apply for the roles, it says in a note leaked to HSJ.

The organisation is going through a major restructure, having merged with Health Education England and NHS Digital, which it has said will remove about 9,000 posts (30-40 per cent of its previous total).

Having lost their previous roles, many staff have been waiting for the final phases of the restructure, which are about to begin, to be able to apply for vacant posts in the new structures which were consulted on internally last year.

However, in an internal note on Thursday, leaked to HSJ, they were told around 5 per cent of roles – or 860 out of 17,000 – will be kept vacant throughout 2024-25 to further cut costs.

The message from NHSE chief delivery officer Steve Russell said: “I appreciate that this may be frustrating for people who have worked incredibly hard on the [organisation’s] design and for colleagues who have waited some time for promotion opportunities, but it is important to emphasise that we do expect that there will be opportunities available.

“Over the coming weeks, directorates and regions will be working through which vacant roles they will prioritise to recruit into, reflecting business priorities and which vacancies to hold back for now.

“We are not changing our organisational design in a way that would require further formal change or consultation and we are not halting all recruitment. This is about prioritising roles so we all do our bit and put as much [funding] back into frontline care as we can.”

The note said, however, that the number of ”available roles across the organisation means that most people should be able to continue in NHS England using their valuable skills in different roles”. 

Several staff who contacted HSJ said they believed particular directorates – especially “transformation”, which took over NHS Digital’s functions, and “workforce, training and education”, which incorporated HEE – would be hardest hit by the further cuts to posts. NHSE declined to comment on this.

They said many staff – either “at risk” or put in roles they believed would only be temporary – felt misled about which posts would be available to them.

The restructure was announced in summer 2022 and large numbers of staff took voluntary redundancy last spring. It initially aimed to finish by autumn 2023, but NHSE has since said all staff will know their position by this spring.

An NHSE spokesman said: “NHS England remains on track to deliver a £410m efficiency in 2024-25 following completion of the new NHSE change programme. This reflects reductions in headcount as we work to be a more streamlined single organisation, which will be at least 30 per cent smaller.

“NHSE is currently focused on those just over 200 colleagues who remain at risk, as we seek to support them in finding suitable alternative employment through the final stages of the programme.”

Cuts so far

Meanwhile, HSJ analysis of figures published this month showed the organisations which make up NHSE had together reduced their staff in post by 3,169 whole-time equivalents (17 per cent) as of October 2023, from a peak of 18,799 in September 2022. This includes both permanent and temporary staff, such as interims and consultants.

As of October, NHSE still had 21 per cent more whole-time staff than its predecessor organisations employed in January 2020, before a large expansion during the coronavirus pandemic (see charts below). NHSE pointed out the figures reflected the position in October, and the restructure is still ongoing but declined to comment further.

DHSC restructure

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care, along with its public health agencies, also made large reductions in staff over the year to October but were still 23 per cent larger than pre-covid (see charts above).

Together, the DHSC, OHID and the UK Health Security Agency – which together replaced Public Health England in autumn 2021 – saw a reduction of 6,364 WTE staff, including permanent and temporary roles, from their peak of 15,031 in February 2022 to October 2023 (a 42 per cent reduction).

Much of the reduction was in UKHSA, which housed NHS Test and Trace and employed a significant number of staff whose focus was on pandemic efforts.

The DHSC, including OHID but not PHE or the UKHSA, reduced by 1,016 WTE staff from its maximum of 4,253 between July 2021 and October 2023 (a 24 per cent reduction).

When including OHID, but not UKHSA or PHE, the government department was 84 per cent larger in October 2023 than pre-covid – but much of that is likely to be linked to it taking in OHID staff from PHE in autumn 2021. OHID’s figures are not published separately.

The DHSC is also carrying out a restructure and reducing posts but has not said what it is aiming for. HSJ revealed concerns about cuts to roles, and fragmentation, in OHID, earlier this month.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “Alongside many government departments, the DHSC has undergone considerable change in recent years, in response to covid and through an increase in its areas of responsibilities.

“Following its growth during covid, the department has now significantly reduced in size, carefully considering areas where savings and improvements can be implemented to enhance the delivery of services for patients.”