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01.03.18

Frontline nursing an ‘easy target for cuts’ as staff numbers continue to drop

The number of nurses and health visitors across the NHS in England has dropped by over 400 people – a decline of just 0.2%, but one which sector leaders feel reflect how frontline nursing has become an “easy target for cuts.”

At a time when the government is actively trying to boost workforce numbers to tackle high rates of vacancies across the country, the latest figures from NHS Digital show that the opposite has been happening: since 2016, the nursing and health visitor workforce has shrunk to 284,000 FTE, a drop of 435 people.

There was also a decrease of 0.2% across the nursing workforce within GP practices, with 27 less staff working in the NHS now than in 2016.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, argued the latest statistics are a worrying sign that the number of nurses continues to slide – and they have also come just a day after a major survey revealed public satisfaction with the NHS is dwindling due to staffing worries.

“It feels to frontline nursing staff that, in a cash-strapped NHS, they have become an easy target for cuts. It will be galling when they see senior management burgeoning too – now officially the fastest growing part of the NHS,” she commented.

“Against a backdrop of modest boosts to medical professions – in a bid to keep pace with soaring demand – nursing is shrinking. All the while, nurses are responsible for the vast majority of hands-on patient care – standards rise and fall with the number of nurses. For as long as there are 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, elements of patient care will inevitably continue to go undone.”

To remedy this situation, Davies said ministers must drop current plans to slash funding from postgraduate nursing students and instead introduce new grants to boost student numbers. Current staff must also be “recognised with a meaningful pay rise this year,” she said, but added that only by setting “safe and effective levels in legislation can standards of patient care rise significantly.”

Despite today’s bleak nursing figures, other areas of the NHS workforce have reportedly grown in the past year. The number of professionally qualified clinical staff, for example (excluding GPs and nurses in GP practices) stood at 569,000 an increase of almost 7,500 people since 2016 (or 1.3%).

There were also 2.4% more hospital doctors in training, 3.4% more consultants, 0.8% more midwives, and 1.8% more staff who provide support to clinical workers. NHS infrastructure support staffing levels also increased by 1.8%, or almost 3,000 more people – including managers (3.3% more) and senior managers (a whopping 7% more).

Comments

Dimer   04/03/2018 at 00:48

When the reports saying "Public Satisfaction with the NHS is Dwindling" come out, there has to be more of a narrative. The obvious follow up question is "In what way?" People should be asked what exactly they are dissatisfied about: the diagnosis and treatment they are given or the amount of time they have to wait to see someone and the amount of time they get to spend with a professional. If it is the first, the answer is more education for the relevant staff. If the second, the answer is more funding and staff. A clear message is required in order to get the right answer. Otherwise the right people will never take responsibility. As it happens, Mr Hunt is refusing to take any responsibility right now. It is up to the media to report whether or not he is correct.

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