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Nurse vacancies: don’t believe government hype, warns Lord

Lib Dem Lord Willis challenged health department’s 50,000 Nurse Progress report

Lib Dem Lord Willis challenged DHSC’s 50,000 Nurse Progress report that claims the government was more than halfway to delivering on election promise

Government claims of being able to deliver 50,000 more nurses should not be believed, a member of the House of Lords has warned.

Following the publication of the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) 50,000 Nurses Programme progress report

Lib Dem Lord Willis challenged DHSC’s 50,000 Nurse Progress report that claims the government was more than halfway to delivering on election promise

Lord Willis of Knaresborough said he found the government projection figures ‘staggering’.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough said he found the government projection figures ‘staggering’. Picture: Parliament TV

Government claims of being able to deliver 50,000 more nurses should not be believed, a member of the House of Lords has warned.

Following the publication of the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) 50,000 Nurses Programme progress report that claimed the government was more than halfway to delivering its election promise, Lord Willis of Knaresborough said he found the projection figures ‘staggering.’

In the report, published on Monday, the government claims to have delivered more than 27,000 extra nurses in England’s NHS compared with September 2019, and projects an increase of domestic nurses by around 14,000 to 15,000 next year.

Workforce figures do not add up, says Lord Willis

However, figures from NHS Digital show the number of UK nurses in the workforce fell by 2,700 in 2020-2021.

Liberal Democrat Lord Willis told Nursing Standard the figures do not add up: ‘I simply find the projections for 2021 to 2023 quite staggering and with absolutely no explanation why, after a drop in numbers, there should be such an amazing change in domestic recruitment,’ he said.

‘Nor can I see just how it will be possible to cater for such an influx in our system. If you look at the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service numbers, there does not appear to be huge changes to warrant the domestic predictions. I hope they are right, but I just don’t see it.’

DHSC said the domestic projections include those coming from UK undergraduate training, post graduate training, return to practice initiatives and direct entry apprenticeships. However, they could not provide a breakdown of the figures or say where they had increased.

50,000 target can’t be achieved without tapping into world’s resources of registered nurses, inquiry told

Last week at the first sitting of the House of Lords inquiry into workforce planning, Lord Willis challenged DHSC workforce leaders on the issue and said that recent figures on registered nurse numbers proved the target could not be met.

He told Mike Aslam, deputy director for workforce strategy at DHSC, that given the recent drop in UK nurses he couldn’t see how the government would achieve the 50,000 target ‘without tapping into the world’s resources of registered nurses’.

Lord Willis pointed to figures published in September 2021 by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which shows international nurses joining the register from outside the European economic area has increased by 450% in the last five years – from 1,258 nurses in 2017 to 17,691 in 2021.

In contrast, the number of UK nurses leaving the register has increased by almost 25% since 2017.

Reliance on international nurses to plug gaps without addressing domestic workforce issue

Data analysis by Nursing Standard shows more than 34,000 nurses left their jobs in the NHS in England in 2020-21, with many struggling to cope with burnout and workloads.

Lord Willis told Nursing Standard he was doubtful the target could be met given the ‘appalling retention rates during and after training’, along with the increased reliance on international nurses to plug the gaps without addressing the domestic workforce issues.

In response, Mr Aslam admitted there were ‘challenges recruiting domestic nurses’.


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