Report on lack of nurses and poor national health makes 'sobering reading'

RCN general secretary urges government to invest in health service now to safeguard the future

The ratio of nurses to population in the UK is below average compared with other countries, and significantly less than those with the best performing healthcare systems.

According to the latest Heath at a Glance study compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) access to care is good, but the quality of that care ‘is uneven and continues to lag behind that in many other OECD countries’.

The study compares health services and statistics in 34 countries from across the globe and its figures show the UK has 8.2 nurses per 1,000 people compared to an average of 9.1, and far fewer than countries such as Switzerland, which has 17.4.

While it has a slightly higher ratio of nurses to doctors than average (3.0 compared to 2.8) it also has a nursing workforce in which up to 20% come from abroad (86,000 as of 2014).

Nearly half of these foreigners come from Asian countries, including the Philippines (26%) and India (19%), while 5,600 trained in Spain, 4,000 each in Portugal and Romania, and 2,500 in Poland.

It goes on to reveal that the UK has one of the worst healthcare systems in the developed world and an ‘outstandingly poor’ record of preventing ill health, adding it ‘does not excel at delivering high quality acute care’ and says survival rates after admission for stroke or heart attack are worse than in most other OECD countries.

The risk factors for all major diseases and conditions which contribute to premature mortality – smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity – are all at a significantly higher rate than the OECD average.

Spending on the NHS has remained static since 2009 with zero growth in health spending per person in real terms from then until 2013. When compared with other professions, nursing is not regarded as financially attractive.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies feels the report makes ‘sobering reading about what the country can currently provide’ and has ‘real anxieties for the future health of the nation’.

She added: ‘The twin evils of poor public health and a lack of staff to keep people well are in danger of worsening.

‘The UK should be investing in public health and in its workforce, but public health budgets have been placed outside the NHS ring-fence and then cut, and the same is being threatened for the education of health staff.

‘The fact that the axe is continuing to fall on vital services is astonishingly short sighted, and the UK must not be allowed to become a poor relation to its neighbours.’

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