Vacancy rates in the NHS and adult social care are high relative to rates in other public services and, with a growing ageing population pushing up demand for labour, rates may increase further.
Trends in staff numbers and vacancy rates differ across the public sector.
Adult social care has seen increases in both staff numbers and vacancy rates, indicating some success in filling vacancies but a continued increase in demand for staff.
Classroom teachers have seen increases in staff numbers but little change in vacancy rates.
Children’s social care and the NHS have seen increases in staff numbers and related declines in vacancy rates.
Different public services use different methods to measure vacancy rates, which makes comparability difficult; methods for measuring vacancy rates should be made more consistent to improve comparability.
Vacancy rates help us to understand the demand and supply for labour. High vacancy rates could indicate overstretched workers as current staff have a larger workload to cope with staff shortages. High vacancy rates may be caused by low retention or challenges in recruiting new staff1. Recruiting challenges could be because of wage competition, or from simply not wanting to work in the public sector.
On the other hand, a very low vacancy rate may suggest that there are few new staff and so occupations are missing out on new skills and ideas, which could limit workforce capacity building. However, having a low vacancy rate could also mean that the industry is very effective at filling vacancies.
So, what are the vacancy rates for different public sector services? How have rates changed over time? And what is the relationship between vacancies and staff numbers?
Notes for: Introduction
- For more information on retention rates, see Is staff retention an issue in the public sector?
The vacancy rate measures the proportion of total posts that are vacant, however, definitions and methods used across the public sector differ. The main differences are:
definitions: “vacancy” is defined differently for different industries with some including vacancies only if there is active recruitment taking place; others include any non-permanently filled job compared with workforce plans, which would generally lead to a higher number of vacancies being estimated
methods: some industries include vacancies and filled posts in the denominator when calculating the vacancy rate while others just include filled jobs, leading to a higher rate.
coverage: some of the data in this article are for the UK while some are for England only
time periods: the time periods used by different industries to calculate their vacancy rate are not consistent1
There is a specific comparability issue with classroom teacher vacancies. Vacancy data are collected as part of the school workforce census date in November, when most vacancies have been filled in time for the start of the new school year. Consequently, vacancy rates for classroom teachers do not accurately reflect the recruitment challenges faced by schools (vacant posts are advertised from Easter to July)2. Therefore, vacancy rates for classroom teachers cannot be directly compared with other industries3.
The varying definitions and methods across the public sector make direct comparisons between parts of the public sector difficult, so we need to be careful when comparing results. The sensitivity analysis we have undertaken, which takes into account some of the methodology differences, suggests that the relative levels and trends are broadly unchanged. However, having a single unified approach to measuring vacancies would allow for a more accurate comparison between different industries.
For full detail of the different sources and the sensitivity analysis undertaken please see Section 10: Methodology.
Notes for: How are vacancy rates measured?
NHS data cover financial year quarters, adult social care data cover financial years, children’s social care data is the position on 30 September each year whilst data for classroom teachers are for November each year. Data for “All industries”, public admin and defence and education cover calendar years.
See methodology for more information.
Figure 1 compares the vacancy rate across different areas of public sector services1.
In 20182, the National Health Service (NHS) had the highest vacancy rate3 (8.5%, which equates to 100,500 vacancies, including for doctors and nurses).
Adult social care the workforce, responsible for caring for some of the most vulnerable members of society, had the second-highest vacancy rate (8.0%, equating to 110,000 vacancies).
Children’s social care services had a vacancy rate of 4.7%, which was higher than the UK average of “all industries”4 of 2.8%5.
Public admin and defence6, and education had the lowest vacancy rates within public sector services at 1.6% and 1.9% respectively.
“Education”, which includes public and private provision, is included when making comparisons across services given the comparability issues with data for classroom teachers explained previously. We will look at classroom teachers separately in more detail in Section 9 given this covers public provision only.
Notes for: The NHS had the highest vacancy rates in 2018 compared with other public sector occupations
See Table 1 in Section 10: Methodology for a definition of all the public services considered and details of the data sources used in the article. Due to data availability there are differences in the geographical coverage – all industries, education and public admin and defence cover the UK whilst the other services only include England. For details on Method 1 and 2 see Table 1 in Section 10: Methodology.
The time period 2018 differs for each public sector service. For the NHS this refers to October to December 2018 (Quarter 3 financial year). Adult social care refers to the financial year ending March 2018. Children’s social care refers to the end of September 2018 whilst classroom teachers refers to November 2018. “All industries”, public admin and defence, and education refers to the 2018 calendar year.
Due to data availability there are differences in the geographical coverage – all industries, education and public admin and defence cover the UK whilst the other services only include England. See Table 1 in Section 10: Methodology.
More information on what industries are used in “all industries”.
Children’s social care vacancy has been calculated using existing DfE data but excludes agency workers. Please see the calculation of vacancy rate excluding agency workers in Table 1 in Section 10: Methodology.
Public admin and defence industry refers to the Standard Industrial Classification grouping. This includes the civil service, armed force, police officers and fire fighters, and so on.
The vacancy rate for “all industries” in the UK increased between 2010 and 2018 from 1.8% to 2.8% (see Figure 2). Following this trend, the adult social care, and public admin and defence vacancy rate also increased over time.
Adult social care vacancy rates increased from 5.5% in 2013 to 8.0% in 2018. This suggests that the adult social care sector may be struggling to keep up with demand as the population ages1. Vacancy rates for public admin and defence increased over time from 0.9% in 2010 to 1.6% in 2018.
In contrast, children’s social care vacancy rates decreased from 5.3% in 2017 to 4.7% in 2018. The NHS vacancy rates also decreased from an average of 8.7% in 2017 to 8.5% in 20182. Vacancy rates for education have remained relatively unchanged for the time series observed.
Notes for: How have vacancy rates changed over time?
Only a short series of data is available for the NHS (from Oct to Dec 2017). For comparability across services, it is best to use a point in time series data for the NHS (we have used Oct to Dec in each year). For comparability within the NHS, quarterly data gives more of a trend.
Over 1 million full-time equivalent (FTE) staff, including nurses, midwives, physios and paramedics, were employed in the NHS in England in January 20191. Numbers of FTE staff in the NHS have increased steadily since the middle of 2013 (see Figure 3).
Due to limited data availability for the NHS we have provided detailed quarterly data2. The NHS vacancy rate dropped by 1.3 percentage points from 9.4% in April to June 2018 to 8.1% in January to March 2019 (see Figure 4). Continuing recruitment aligned with new graduates joining has meant that vacancy numbers have decreased 9.0% from July to September in 2018 (105,838) to January to March in 2019 (96,348).
Despite consistently increasing staff numbers, the current number of vacancies (100,500) remains high and continues to be a challenge for the NHS. This is particularly the case in the nursing workforce. The NHS is therefore supporting providers to improve staff retention and sharing best practice to reduce temporary staffing.
Notes for: NHS staff numbers have been increasing while the vacancy rate has decreased slightly but remains high
There was a break in series in April 2013 due to the restructure of the NHS.
For comparability across services it is best to use a point in time series data for NHS. For comparability within the NHS quarterly data gives more of a trend.
There was a general increase in the number of classroom teachers between 2011 and 2016, with a drop in 2017 (see Figure 9). In 2018, classroom teachers had a low vacancy rate (0.3%) although the vacancy rate has risen since 2010 (see Figure 10).
As explained previously, the reason for such a low vacancy rate in comparison with other industries is, in part, because of the way classroom teachers’ vacancies are recorded in November of each year when teacher vacancies are likely to be low at the start of the school year, which affects their comparability.
As staff numbers have been increasing so have the vacancy rates1. While this is similar to the trend observed for adult social care, the increase in the vacancy rate for classroom teachers has been small.
Notes for: Increase in both classroom teacher numbers and the vacancy rate since 2010
- Classroom teachers changed its methodology in 2015. The denominator since 2015 is teacher head count plus vacancy numbers. Prior to 2016 the denominator was the number of full-time qualified teachers in service (this did not include part-time in the denominator).
Definitions of a vacancy and coverage
The ONS Vacancy Survey
How many job vacancies a business has, for which they are actively seeking recruits from outside the organisation.
NHS Improvement (NHSI)
The variance between the reported full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in post against planned workforce levels. A vacancy is a post that is unfilled by a permanent or fixed-term staff (agency or temporary staff may also fill some vacant posts). Trusts may not be actively recruiting.
Adult social care
A vacancy is where the job is unfilled – providers are asked how many vacancies they have for each job role on the day they are completing the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC). Each job that is vacant is classed as one vacancy regardless of the hours required (that is, a vacancy for a part-time role is still one vacancy, not a proportion of a vacancy).
The number of advertised teaching posts that were either vacant or temporarily filled at the school workforce census date in November.
Children’s social care
Any FTE post unfilled within a local authority’s organisational structure, including vacant posts not being actively recruited for.
There are some important differences in the coverage. “All industries,” “education” and “public admin and defence” cover the UK whilst the other services cover England only. There may be differences in the rates for those outside England.
Methods for vacancy rate calculation
There are different methods for the vacancy rate calculation:
For “all industries”, “education” and “public admin and defence”.
For “NHS”, “adult social care”, “children’s social care”1 and “classroom teachers”.
The first calculation method shows a higher rate than the second method, because “vacancies” is not included in the denominator, however, the differences between the two calculations were very small and are unlikely to make a material difference to the levels (see Figures 11 and 12).
There is a difference in the types of staff used in the vacancy rates calculation. Children’s social care and the NHS use full-time equivalent (FTE) staff while the other industries and services use headcount. The vacancy rates using FTE will show a lower figure than if headcount was used. However, as the vacancy rates are being calculated as rates, the differences will be small and again will make little material difference.
|Service or industry||Source||Coverage||Vacancy rate calculation||Further information|
|1||All industries||ONS Vacancy Survey||UK||Vacancies/jobs filled *100. The vacancy ratio is an estimate of the number of vacancies per 100 jobs, using employee jobs estimates from the Short-Term Employment Surveys (STES).||This is a Standard Industry Classification (SIC). This is the overall vacancy rates for all industries (public and private sector).|
|2||Education||ONS Vacancy Survey||UK||Vacancies/jobs filled *100. The no. of vacancies per 100 employed jobs (Headcount)||This is a Standard Industry Classification (SIC). This includes higher education institutions such as Universities as well as Sports and recreation education, Cultural education and Driving school activities.|
|This also includes the private sector.|
|3||Public admin and defence; compulsory social security||ONS Vacancy Survey||UK||Vacancies/jobs filled *100. The no. of vacancies per 100 employed jobs (Headcount)||This is a Standard Industry Classification (SIC). This includes the civil service, armed force, police officers and fire fighters etc.|
|4||Adult social care||Skills for Care||England||Sum of directly employed vacancies or sum of directly employed staff + sum of directly employed vacancies||Adult Social Care vacancy includes those who are employed by local authority and independently|
|5||Children’s social care||‘Children’s Social work Workforce,’ Department for Education||England||This excludes agency workers.||Children’s and family social workers include those who have registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council and either work in a local authority in a children’s services department or (if working in an authority where the services are joined up) work exclusively on children and families work.|
|100*((Number of FTE vacancies-number of FTE agency workers covering vacancies) / (Number of FTE vacancies-number of FTE agency workers covering vacancies) + (Number of FTE social workers + number of FTE agency workers))|
|6||Classroom teachers||‘School Workforce Survey Census,’ Department for Education||England||Vacancies /Teacher head count + vacancies. The denominator since 2015 is teacher head count plus vacancy numbers. Prior to 2016 the denominator was the number of full-time qualified teachers in service. (This did not include part-time in the denominator).||This includes Classroom teachers in state schools for nursery, primary and secondary. A teacher vacancy refers to a full-time or part-time appointment of at least one term's duration that, on the census date, had been advertised but not filled. Vacancies include those filled on a temporary basis unless filled by someone with a fixed term contract of one term or more.|
|7||NHS||‘Quarterly performance of the NHS provider sector: quarter 3 financial year ending 2019’||England||Total number of FTE vacancies/ total funded or budgeted establishment comprised of the number of staff in post and the number of vacant posts x 100||Whole-time equivalent (WTE) is the ratio of the total number of paid hours during a period (part-time, full-time, contracted) by the number of working hours in the period. One WTE is equivalent to one employee working full-time.|
Download this table.xlsx .csv
Please see the links for all the data source used in this article:
"All industries," "education", and "public admin and defence"
Adult social care
Children social care
Figure 11 shows the difference between the vacancy rate of Methods 1 and 2 using actual adult social care data. Method 2 is the vacancy rate as calculated by Adult Skills for Care, whilst Method 1 uses the same adult social care data for Method 2 but excludes vacancies in the denominator.
This is a modelled calculation of the two different methods for vacancy rates that are used by different services in this article. Figure 12 shows that using method 1 will result in a slightly higher vacancy rate, however, the difference between the two methods is very small. That is, it could be up to a 1 percentage point difference if the vacancy rate was 10% as calculated by Method 2. (The highest the vacancy rate reported in the article is 8.5% for NHS).
As the differences between these two methods are small it still allows us to make comparisons between figures that use different methods (see Table 2 for the data used to calculate the vacancy rates for Figure 12).
|No of vacancies||No of jobs filled||Method 1 (%)||Method 2 (%)|
Download this table.xlsx .csv
Notes for: Methodology
- The vacancy rate for children social care excludes agency workers.
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