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Government ‘must top its 50,000 more nurses target’ to recover from COVID-19

Report finds numbers down in community, mental health and learning disability services

Health Foundation report finds numbers down in community, mental health and learning disability services

The government will need to exceed its 50,000-nurse recruitment and retention target and diversify skill mix to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.

The Health Foundation report Building the NHS Nursing Workforce in England reveals that despite overall nursing numbers rising from 280,620 in June 2010 to 302,471 by June 2020, the number of health visitors and nurses working in community nursing, mental health and learning disability services are all lower now than they were in June 2010.

Anita Charlesworth

Robust systems for recruitment and retention must be in place to solve the

Health Foundation report finds numbers down in community, mental health and learning disability services

A nurse in a face mask treating an older lady in a kitchen Picture: iStock
More community nurses are needed to help beat the pandemic Picture: iStock

The government will need to exceed its 50,000-nurse recruitment and retention target and diversify skill mix to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.

The Health Foundation report Building the NHS Nursing Workforce in England reveals that despite overall nursing numbers rising from 280,620 in June 2010 to 302,471 by June 2020, the number of health visitors and nurses working in community nursing, mental health and learning disability services are all lower now than they were in June 2010.

The Health Foundation's Anita Charlesworth
Anita Charlesworth

Robust systems for recruitment and retention must be in place to solve the crisis

Report co-author Anita Charlesworth said increasing the numbers in these areas is critical to enable the country to recover from the pandemic.

Ms Charlesworth, director of research at the Health Foundation’s Research for Equitable Access and Learning Centre, added: ‘To fully recover from the pandemic, the government will need to exceed its 50,000 nurses target and put in place robust systems for recruiting and retaining a nursing workforce fit for the future.’

Assessing NHS Digital NHS Workforce statistics, the report’s researchers found that in June 2010 there were 5,284 learning disability nurses but by June 2020 this had fallen to 3,238. In June 2010 there were 7,816 health visitors, but this had fallen to 6,652 by June 2020.

The 41,594 community health nurses in June 2010 had dropped to 36,425 by June 2020, while mental health nurse numbers fell from 40,547 to 37,461 in the same period.

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair
Dame Donna Kinnair

Government must bring ‘honesty and investment’ to deliver a solution

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘There is no quick solution to this crisis. It will take honesty and investment on the part of government, paying people fairly for their skill and expertise and supporting the next generation of nursing staff through their education.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament, with 14,800 more working in the NHS than last year.’


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