Staffing is the issue most often keeping NHS leaders awake at night – and consumes two-thirds of trusts’ spending. The fortnightly The Ward Round newsletter, by HSJ workforce correspondent Annabelle Collins, will make sure you are tuned in to both the daily pressures on staff, and the wider trends and policies shaping NHS staffing. Contact me in confidence

Spinning the truth

NHS England glossed over the huge drop in overall nursing applicants since 2016 this week and instead zoomed in on a few hundred extra male applicants over the last year to claim success for its recruitment campaign.

NHS England tweeted a press release and video celebrating the “surge” in male nursing applications this year, which was met swiftly with criticism. One Twitter user pointed out they had in fact pulled out the 2009 data to compare with 2018 – a year when the number of places commissioned for nurses was cut.

This piece of spin failed to acknowledge the number of male nursing applicants has actually fallen by 38 per cent since 2016 and overall nursing by 30 per cent in the same time period.

Even though the number of male and female nurses has increased since 2018, it feels disingenuous to suggest there has been any sort of surge in applicants. There is a long way to go to make a dent in the 42,000 vacancies in the NHS.

Staff survey

Although there is an improving trend in safety culture within the NHS, as revealed in the 2018 staff survey this week, more staff have reported experiencing bullying, harassment or abuse in the last 12 months.

NHS staff have also reported their health and wellbeing has been affected by work-related stress, with fewer staff believing their organisations take positive action on health and wellbeing. Staff members have also reported a steady increase in discrimination at work from patients since 2015.

Ethnicity is a significant factor as to whether staff think their NHS organisation provides equal opportunities for career progression – 69.9 per cent of black and minority ethnic staff agreed with this compared to 86 per cent of white staff.

However, more staff are satisfied with their pay than last year – perhaps a knock-on affect of the Agenda for Change contract – so now the NHS needs to ensure its staff are well supported and with equal opportunities to develop their careers, if its ambitious retention aims are to be fulfilled.

Falling numbers of podiatry students

The Council of Deans has warned serious shortages of podiatry students could undermine the NHS’ ability to provide care in line with ambitions set out in the long-term plan.

In collaboration with the College of Podiatry, the council has called for the introduction of a maintenance grant for healthcare students and full payment of tuition fees for podiatry students in England.

It has argued the 2017 reforms to healthcare education has resulted in fewer mature students studying podiatry, which has had a dangerous knock-on effect on the pipeline of podiatrists – there has been an overall decline of 23 per cent.

It is unlikely the shortage of podiatrists will gain the same level of attention as nurses or doctors, but it could have a detrimental effect on the quality of care patients with diabetes, musculoskeletal and rheumatological conditions receive.

According to Diabetes UK, up to 80 per cent of foot amputations carried out in the UK are preventable and complications of this condition are extremely expensive. Investing in podiatrists is surely an important part of future-proofing diabetes care and ultimately saving the NHS money.