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12.10.17

Nursing numbers drop by more than 1,000 in one year

Nursing and health visitor numbers have fallen on a year-on-year basis for the first time since April 2013, according to a report by the King’s Fund.

The analysis shows that the NHS had fewer nurses and health visitors in April this year than the previous April - a trend which continued in May and June

June 2017 saw 282,603 nurses and heath visitors in post - 1,071 fewer than the previous year, which calls into question the ability of the NHS to cope with the looming winter pressures.

The report attributes the reduction in the number of nurses from the EU joining the UK nursing register since the Brexit referendum, along with changes to language testing requirements and an increasing number of EU staff leaving the NHS.

In addition, the number of staff leaving the NHS due to ill-health or to improve their work-life balance has seen a sharp increase over the last few years.

The King’s Fund has also indicated that the government’s decision to scrap bursaries for student nurses has led to a reduction in successful applicants to train to be a nurse, despite Jeremy Hunt’s plan to increase the number of nurse training places by 25%.

The analysis highlights the mismatch between the demand for NHS services and the increase in actual NHS nurses and health visitors.

Emergency admissions have increased by over 14% since 2010, whereas the number of nurses and health visitors has increased by only 0.7% in the same period.

Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said: “There is good evidence that having enough nurses is essential for delivering safe care, and so it is worrying that the number if uses and health visitors is going down at a time when services are already overstretched and the demand for care is rising.

“This means the NHS is less equipped to cope with the demands of a winter that was already threatening to stretch the NHS to the limit.”

Murray welcomed Hunt’s announcement to increase university places for student nurses, but warned “it will take years for this to translate into extra nurses on the wards.”

“Workforce planning has been neglected for too long in the NHS, and the fact that the EU referendum result appears to have tipped the balance highlights how fragile the workforce situation has become.”

He added that a new workforce strategy is “desperately needed.”

Responding to the report, chief executive of NHS Employers, Danny Mortimer, said: “Any indication that the NHS is becoming less attractive as a place to work for nurses, from abroad or from the UK, is a cause for concern.

“NHS organisations are working hard to address staff concerns and better retain vital nurse skills.”

Mortimer added that they need national support to do this, saying: “Expansion of nurse training, revisions to language testing and improving access to affordable housing are welcome interventions to help employers retain staff, but investment is also needed in pay and training budgets.”

And Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also stated: “Since the stark warnings made by Robert Francis four years ago, Jeremy Hunt prided himself on rising numbers but this expert analysis reveals a worrying decline.”

She added that the NHS is “haemorrhaging experienced nurses at a faster rate than it can find new recruits.”

Davies warned that the reduction in nurses from the EU, falling pay and extreme pressure is a “lethal cocktail,” leaving people demoralised and leaving the NHS.

She said that the analysis reinforces the need to regulate staffing levels and to invest in nurse education: “The decline is a direct result of years of poor decisions and excessive cost cutting - we need a new law that makes ministers and others accountable for proper workforce planning and safe and effective staffing levels.”

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