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The NHS, already struggling to meet rising demand with a chronic lack of staff, has 70,000 fewer personnel working for it than ministers have previously believed, new official figures show.

Its own data collectors have found that figures produced in December on the number of people staffing frontline services inflated the workforce.

At the time, a total of 1,083,545 full time equivalent (FTE) health professionals were said to be working in the 228 NHS trusts and 209 GP-led local clinical commissioning groups across England. But the NHS’s Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) now says that the true number was 1,014,218.

That means the NHS had 69,317 fewer staff last September than the 1.1 million that ministers identified in December, including just over 15,000 fewer nurses, midwives and health visitors and 3,000 fewer doctors.

“These figures reveal that the staffing crisis in the NHS is actually far worse than we had feared,” said Heidi Alexander, Labour’s shadow health secretary. “Patients will rightly be concerned that there are 18,000 fewer doctors and nurses working in the NHS than ministers had thought only four months ago.”

The smaller workforce was worrying because “hospital wards are already dangerously understaffed and morale in the NHS is at rock bottom”, she added. “This is impacting on patient care and leaving some staff so overstretched they are unable to complete basic tasks, such as changing dressings or checking patients have finished their meals.”

Staff shortages are affecting at least some departments of almost every hospital and many GP surgeries. They have sent the NHS’s bill for agency and other temporary doctors and nurses soaring to £4bn a year, the main reason NHS trusts are set to overspend by £2.8bn in 2015-16.


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NHS has 70,000 fewer staff, new figures reveal