COT_logoA report released by Health Education England (HEE) and The College of Occupational Therapists (COT) has highlighted vacancy rates for occupational therapists of up to 40% and the difficulties in filling these posts across the capital. There are concerns that Brexit could exacerbate the problem.

Compiled by London’s Southbank University, the report finds that across London there are more than 252 unfilled occupational therapist posts within NHS and social care services. Nearly one-third of these vacancies sit within the Mental Health sector.

The research highlighted the cost of living and difficulty in finding affordable accommodation in the capital as key drivers behind the slump in applications as the London weighting has failed to keep up with the rising costs of housing and travel in London.

COT_shortageThe College of Occupational Therapists is calling for the Department of Health and Health Education England to take rapid action to address the crisis. It is particularly concerned that the impact of the UK’s vote to leave the EU could exacerbate the situation. Recent figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed that the number of nurses and midwives registering to work in the UK has dropped by 90% since the vote.

NHS trusts and social services have traditionally recruited from Australia, South Africa and the US to fill vacancies they couldn’t fill domestically. But that route was closed when OTs were taken off the official professional shortages list in early 2015 against the advice of The College of Occupational Therapists and the British Medical Association.

One of the impacts of the shortage has been to drive up the cost of locum staff. The report says that this has attracted staff to take up more lucrative locum roles, increasing staff turnover. Sometimes staff will return to the same role but as a locum at a higher cost.

One occupational therapist who opted to leave a post in the capital was Gaynor Ames. She left a job with an NHS Hospital Trust in Central London just over 2 years ago after the birth of her first child. She has now moved to a new occupational therapy role in South Wales. She said: “I adored my job working for the NHS in London. However, the combination of spending 3 hours a day commuting, not being able to secure flexible hours and the cost of nursery care meant it didn’t make sense for me to return to my job after I had my first baby. These days the quality of life for me and my family is so much better here in Wales so whilst I was very sorry to leave my previous role, I don’t regret my decision for a second.”

Julia Skelton, Director of Professional Operations at The College of Occupational Therapists said: “If the situation is not addressed, the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Londoners and their ability to live independently will be hugely affected. Without access to the type of proactive preventative care that occupational therapists provide more people will undoubtedly ‘overflow’ into already overstretched A&E departments or GP surgeries. This is worse for patients and more expensive for the NHS.”

The College is calling on the Government to do four things to address the crisis:

  • Re-add occupational therapy to the priority occupation list. Potentially restricting this to London-based posts should any specific immigration rules be agreed for London.
  • Provide assurances that it will protect the rights of qualified occupational therapists from elsewhere in the EU currently working in London to remain here and for new applicants to be permitted to fill vacancies in London in the future.
  • Identify ways to provide occupational therapists with affordable accommodation.
  • To work with The Mayor of London, Transport for London and transport operators to provide free travel for occupational therapists (and potentially other key NHS staff) in line with police officers who are entitled to use TfL services for free.

Download the full report – An Investigation into the Occupational Therapy Workforce in London