Department of Health loses over a quarter of staff in just three months, IfG finds

Overall increase in Whitehall headcount obscures steep decline in the health ministry


By Richard Johnstone

22 Jun 2017

The Department of Health lost over a quarter of its workforce in the first three months of the year as part of a staff cuts programme, an analysis of the latest Whitehall workforce data by the Institute for Government has found.

The think tank said the ministry lost 460 full time equivalent staff over the three months to March, which amounts to 26% of its total workforce.


Researcher Alice Lilly highlighted that under a staff reduction plan, DH planned to cut its workforce to around 1,300-1,400 by the end of 2016 due to funding reductions in its Spending Review settlement. The figures indicate that some of those cuts in fact occurred at the beginning of 2017.

In total there were 388,700 full-time equivalent civil servants employed at government departments and related bodies in March, an increase of over 3,400 on December 2016, which the IfG said indicated that numbers are slowly beginning to rise after seven years of consistent reductions.

As a result, employment levels rose at 12 departments in the last quarter, with the biggest proportional increases at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (a 6.9% hike) and the Home Office (up 1.7%). Lilly said that these two departments would be particularly affected by Brexit, while the Department for International Trade got 140 additional staff during the past quarter.

The only department in addition to the DH to see numbers fall was the Cabinet Office, where employment was down by around 5%.

Following the large reductions in the first three months of the year, the Department of Health has now also seen the biggest fall in its workforce since 2010, with a 49% reduction in headcount. The second biggest fall is now the Department for Communities and Local Government (down 42%) while Defra, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice are all over a quarter smaller.

Overall, the civil service remains 20% smaller than before the cuts began in 2009, and Lilly said it now faced the demands of both delivering Brexit but also supporting the new minority government. “The question is whether numbers will continue to rise,” she said.

The DH has been approached for comment on its figures.

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