Staffing crisis: NHS needs to recruit 23,000 more nurses per year

Leaked plan reports ‘major concerns’ over reliance on overseas and agency staff and advocates rapid recruitment of nurses, but experts remain sceptical
Student on a placement

Leaked plan reports ‘major concerns’ over reliance on overseas and agency staff and advocates rapid recruitment of nurses, but experts remain sceptical

Vicious circle: nursing students are having difficulty accessing clinical placements due to staffing shortages Picture: John Houlihan

The UK needs to train almost 23,000 more nurses every year to prevent an escalation of the recruitment crisis in the NHS, but experts are sceptical this can be achieved amid a ‘vicious circle’ of workforce problems.

Leaked plan says drastic action is needed to address staffing crisis

The long-awaited NHS workforce plan reportedly highlights ‘major concerns’ over the UK’s reliance on overseas recruits to plug workforce gaps, as well as the use of bank and agency staff to ensure safe staffing in hospitals, according to a leaked copy.

The report, expected to be published imminently, was promised by the government to tackle the huge number of nurse and doctor vacancies in the health service.

The plan, leaked to the Guardian, suggests the NHS needs to increase the number of new nurses joining the NHS every year from 29,865 per year to 52,722 – a 77% rise. It adds that without drastic action, the NHS will have 44,000 fewer community nurses within 15 years.

Expert warns that current staffing shortages would hamper rapid recruitment

Kevin Crimmons, head of adult nursing and health and social care at Birmingham’s Newman University, told Nursing Standard that a lack of clinical placements due to workforce shortages would hamper efforts to rapidly increase nursing numbers.

‘There is a vicious circle at the moment in the NHS. It’s such an attritional environment for nurses to care in where they’re not able to take their breaks or get their hydration, for example,’ he said.

‘Experienced nurses then have less time for nursing students. We’re also seeing nurses leaving because they’re so exhausted and there aren’t enough staff, so the circle continues.’

Mr Crimmons criticised the millions being spent on agency staff as ‘empty money’ that could be better spent on giving nurses a fair pay rise.

‘Some agencies charge premium rates. This is empty money being taken out of the health service,’ he added.

‘The government just had a prime opportunity to show nurses what they’re worth and it resulted in a 5% pay rise. They’re not paying market rates in my opinion, if the government is prepared to pay the agency rates, that’s the market rate.’

Government says long-term workforce plan for NHS will be published ‘soon’

The RCN called for a fully funded workforce strategy to end the ‘crisis in nursing’ highlighted in the leaked report, including plans to end the UK’s reliance on overseas nurses.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: ‘Health and care services are facing unsustainable pressures and patient care is at risk, yet there has been a long-term failure to provide the investment needed to grow the nursing workforce.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We’re growing the healthcare workforce, recruiting 50,000 more nurses and almost hitting our target of delivering 26,000 additional primary care staff. The NHS will soon publish a long-term workforce plan to support and grow the workforce.’

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