Health and social care workers are quitting their jobs for better paid work in warehouses and shops, an NHS boss has revealed.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also warned that Brexit had “cut off” a supply of labour to the health service.
Taylor said NHS staffing problems were “deteriorating” in the build up to Christmas as workers leave health service jobs over pay.
It comes as hundreds of thousands of NHS workers are due to strike over the government’s refusal to give them above inflation pay rises.
The Royal College of Nursing has given the government just days to open “detailed negotiations” on pay, or they will announce strike dates for December.
Taylor told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The cost-of-living crisis is hard for everyone but the private sector can pass on extra costs, it can raise wages.
“I speak to people every day who work in health and social care and they talk about staff leaving to go and work in warehouses, to go and work in retail which intensifies at Christmas.
“So, that situation is deteriorating. In a perfect world there would be more money for social care in the frontline and we’d be able to carry out the reforms that Boris Johnson unveiled some time ago but given the choices, the really important thing is to get that money to the frontline and to, for example, get those people out of hospital who don’t need to be there.”
Asked if Brexit had had an impact on staffing, he added: “There is no question that Brexit is part of this and the government themselves have taken measures to bring more staff in from around the world because we have labour shortages everywhere but particularly in health and care because we don’t pay very much and the work is extremely demanding.
“So, yes, Brexit cut off a supply of labour and we had to scrabble around to try and bring in people because without overseas staff our NHS simply would not work.”
Health secretary Steve Barclay has insisted that his “door is open” and that he had been meeting with trade unions in recent days.
He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “We have been talking to them and, as you say, it’s not simply about pay.
“On pay, we’ve accepted in full the independent pay review body’s recommendations, that’s a minimum of a £1,400 increase.
“We have listened, we have respected in full the independent pay review body’s recommendations where they look at these issues in the round.”
The union is calling for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation, saying that despite a pay rise earlier this year experienced nurses were worse off by 20 per cent due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.
On Sunday, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “The health secretary’s lack of intention and inability to see the urgency of this situation will trouble every nurse.”
She said he “showed no signs” of intending to come to the negotiating table for “detailed, formal discussions”.
Cullen added: “We need ministers to be bold and adopt a radical new position with serious investment in nursing, including fair pay.”