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Staffing crisis: we’re halfway to target of 50,000 more nurses, says government

But unions demand fair pay for nurses and a transparent health and care workforce strategy, and criticise ‘short-sighted’ reliance on overseas nurses

But unions demand fair pay for nurses and a transparent health and care workforce strategy, and criticise ‘short-sighted’ reliance on overseas nurses

The government has said it is over halfway to achieving its election promise of 50,000 more nurses in England’s NHS by 2024 – but unions have disputed the claim and criticised what is seen as an empty ‘political target’.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) report published today shows more than 27,000 extra nurses are already working in England’s NHS compared with September 2019.

RCN demands transparent workforce strategy

But RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said:

But unions demand fair pay for nurses and a transparent health and care workforce strategy, and criticise ‘short-sighted’ reliance on overseas nurses

Picture: iStock

The government has said it is over halfway to achieving its election promise of 50,000 more nurses in England’s NHS by 2024 – but unions have disputed the claim and criticised what is seen as an empty ‘political target’.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) report published today shows more than 27,000 extra nurses are already working in England’s NHS compared with September 2019.

RCN demands transparent workforce strategy

But RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘Without transparent publication of workforce data, nursing staff will question these claims. They do not match their day to day experience trying to provide safe and effective care with a significantly depleted workforce.

‘This is a political target in the absence of a proper health and care workforce strategy.’

Union highlights international recruitment amid nurse exodus

The DHSC said the total number of nurses working in England’s NHS is 327,907, which means the government is more than halfway to meeting its 2019 manifesto promise of 351,000 nurses by March 2024.

International recruitment is expected to deliver between 51,000-57,000 more nurses, while around 68,000-75,000 more nurses will be trained in England by 2024, the DHSC said.

But Ms Cullen warned that relying on overseas nurses appears ‘short-sighted and could be understood as ethically questionable’. She also highlighted an increase in the number of nurses leaving the profession due to burnout and poor pay.

‘Experienced nursing staff who stayed in the profession during the pandemic are now leaving in greater numbers,’ Ms Cullen said. ‘One of the simplest ways to keep more staff is a fair pay rise that recognises their professional skills.’

Figures published by NHS England last week revealed there were 39,652 full-time registered nurse vacancies in December 2021.

Fair pay is vital to ensure nurse retention, Unison says

Sara Gorton

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton agreed that the government needs to address pay to prevent a mass exodus of nurses.

‘Unless the retention package for nurses and other health workers includes measures to address their pay, then more will continue to leave,’ she said.

Government plan: train new recruits, welcome returnees and retain existing nurses

The Conservatives have faced fierce criticism for the election promise, with unions and MPs condemning the target for including retention of nurses rather than only hiring new recruits.

The DHSC said today that retention is part of the plan and is expected to contribute between 3,000 and 9,000 nurses to the overall target through addressing the reasons why nurses leave the profession.

Deputy chief nursing officer for NHS England Mark Radford said: ‘To continue on track to meet the 50,000 target, we will carry on working with our partners in health, social care and education to support and train new nurses as well as welcoming back people who want to return to the profession and ensuring the existing workforce, who have been so crucial to our pandemic response, are supported and given opportunities to develop in their career.’


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