Occupational therapy services in London are reaching crisis point as they struggle to fill vacancies and retain experienced staff. In October, the first recruitment fair took place, aimed specifically at occupational therapists (OTs) from Europe (specifically Holland, Malta and Ireland) to work in health and social care in the capital. Some local authorities are contracting cases out to private companies to clear the backlog of non-urgent assessments.
Robin Brian, Senior Consultant in our HR Division, has filled several OT roles locally. He says “The vacancy rate for OTs working in social care outside of London is about 8%. It is generally accepted that most OTs will find a job within a year of graduating. The picture is different in London because of the high cost of living and unaffordable housing. Lack of NHS OTs means that patients, particularly those attending A&E and general medicine, are often not getting the rehabilitation they need to return home and to work.”
Confidential research, due to be published in the new year by The Health and Social Care Information Centre, illustrates the scale of the challenge. The figures, which are still being finalised, show that London NHS trusts have a vacancy rate of 15.2% and in social care it rises to 17.5%. The highest number of unfilled NHS posts are in band six and in senior OT practitioner roles in social care, where vacancies run at 18.2%. These provisional statistics are backed up by latest NHS figures. There were 1,016 advertisements for OT jobs in England between March 2014 and February 2015 (273 were in London).
In the past, trusts and social services have traditionally recruited from Australia, South Africa and the US to fill vacancies, but OTs have been taken off the official professional shortages list. There has since been a failed attempt to get OTs back on to the list. Recruiting in India has been suggested as a viable alternative, as the amount paid for every relocated OT would be recovered within six weeks when compared to paying a locum.