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UK faces shortage of 36,000 nurses by 2030, study claims

Research projection shows shortfall of thousands of nurses in the UK.
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The UK faces a potential shortage of more than 36,000 nurses by 2030, a new study has shown.

The research, published in Human Resources for Health journal , is believed to be one of the first detailed analyses of nurse and doctor shortfall or surplus across high income countries over the next decade.

It also suggests a possible shortfall by 2030 of more than 1.1 million nurses and 45,000 midwives across the countries in the study.

The RCN has warned that the figures for UK nursing could have serious implications for patient care and wants the government to concentrate on a long-term workforce strategy.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: We are already living

The UK faces a potential shortage of more than 36,000 nurses by 2030, a new study has shown.


Researchers gathered information about the healthcare workforce of 32
high-income countries. Picture: Charles Milligan

The research, published in Human Resources for Health journal, is believed to be one of the first detailed analyses of nurse and doctor shortfall or surplus across high income countries over the next decade.

It also suggests a possible shortfall by 2030 of more than 1.1 million nurses and 45,000 midwives across the countries in the study.

The RCN has warned that the figures for UK nursing could have ‘serious implications for patient care’ and wants the government to concentrate on a long-term workforce strategy.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘We are already living with a huge staffing crisis.

Pushed to the limit

‘There are 24,000 nursing vacancies in the health service, and staff are being pushed to their absolute limit: delivering safe patient care with a shortfall of 36,000 nurses will simply not be possible.’

Researchers gathered information about the healthcare workforce of 32 high-income countries which are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD was set 50 years ago to promote policies among governments to improve economic and social well-being.

The authors of the study simulated future supply of and requirements for midwives, nurses, and physicians for each country from 2015-30 by using information gathered from OECD’s online indicator database. Other countries included in the research were Ireland, France, Germany, Australia and Canada.

 ‘Compass bearings’

Authors also used existing online sources, such as data from the World Health Organisation.

The authors warn that the simulations in the study are not be simply interpreted as predictions of what will happen, but should serve as ‘compass bearings’ to help with policy changes by showing the direction countries in the research are heading.

Gail Tomblin Murphy, one of the authors of the report and a professor at Dalhousie University school of nursing, said the authors would like to see more ‘rigorous and systematic collection of data’ across all the included countries which she said should consider the need for healthcare, levels of service, productivity and activity.

She added: ‘We would encourage the UK to closely study the healthcare needs of its population and carefully consider ways in which they could make better use of its nursing workforce and team-delivered care to address those needs.’

Shortfall priority

Dr Tomblin Murphy added said it was important to consider how requirements for nurses are impacted by the services they deliver and their roles.

Jim Buchan, workforce expert and professor in the school of health sciences at Queen Margaret University, said that while the simulation analysis doesn’t show if staff have the right skills or are deployed in the right place, it does suggest that nursing shortfalls should be policy priority in the UK.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Safe staffing in hospitals has been a top priority in the wake of Mid Staffs. We now have more than 29,300 extra clinical staff, including more than 11,200 more nurses, on our wards since May 2010, as well as 51,000 nurses in training.

‘Making sure we continue to have the right number of staff is vital which is one of the reasons we set up Health Education England to bring together experts looking at staff numbers and training needs across the NHS.’


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