MPs draw up nurse workforce plan to halt exodus from the register

Commons nursing workforce review highlights pressures stemming from training squeeze, student attrition and 'staying late'.
Houses of Parliament

Commons nursing workforce review highlights pressures stemming from training squeeze, student attrition and 'staying late'

Urgent measures to tackle a nurse workforce crisis in which too many areas and specialties are overstretched and struggling to cope are today outlined by a cross-party group of MPs.

Photo: iStock

The Commons health committee has made a series of recommendations – from reversing cuts in training budgets to improving nurse well-being – in a bid to halt the trend of more nurses leaving the register than joining it.

Causes of the shortfall

The 51-page Nursing Workforce report of the committee inquiry stresses the need for the workforce to expand at scale and pace that alleviates the pressure nurses are facing.

The MPs say there are many causes for the shortfall in nurses including workload, pay, morale and lack of access to continuing professional development (CPD).

It recommends: 

  • Health Education England reverses cuts to nurse training budgets and ensures nurses can access CPD, with action to be reviewed in a year.
  • Chief nurse Jane Cummings immediately writes to nursing directors to check nurses are able to conduct safe patient handovers without 'routinely staying late', as well as having time for breaks.
  • A well-being group is formed, to include nurses from all grades and career stages, to design and monitor improvements to nurses' working conditions.
  • The 30% student attrition rate be investigated and the causes addressed by universities and NHS providers. Government should hold them to account.
  • A 'plain English guide' explaining the scope of the nursing associate role be developed.
  • NHS England and Health Education England work on an ethical overseas recruitment programme for the short to medium term.
  • Language tests be monitored to ensure foreign recruits' English is at an appropriate level.
  • Further assurance is provided on retaining EU staff in the UK post-Brexit.
  • A nationally agreed data set is developed to ensure a consistent approach to workforce planning including an agreed figure for the nursing shortfall.
  • Assessment of future demand be based on demographic and other factors, rather than solely on cost.

Linking pay to productivity

The committee welcomed the removal of the pay cap in the autumn budget, but cautioned against the chancellor’s remarks on linking pay with productivity – because the NHS already out-performs the UK industry average.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘This report is the latest in a litany of calls for investment in the existing and future nursing workforce. Without that, nursing will remain on its current dangerous path.

‘The report should make for sober reading inside government. The shortages are now biting and, when it comes to solving them, it concludes there is little sign that will change.’

Areas of particular concern

The report highlights how specific fields are particularly struggling to recruit enough nurses – with district nursing numbers falling by 45% since 2010.

On nursing students, the committee said the government must be prepared to act if the number of mature students and those applying for mental health and learning disability courses continues to fall, following the replacement of the bursary with tuition fees.

The union Unite said the committee should have gone further by calling for the immediate reinstatement of the NHS bursary for nursing students.

Responding to the report, a Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson said there were now record numbers of nurses on the wards with 14,200 more since May 2010.

The DH said it is also helping to improve nurses' work-life balance with more flexible working, new routes into the profession and has launched the 'biggest ever expansion of nurse training places'.

Further information

Janet Davies' full response to the Nursing Workforce report

In other news