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Number of NHS nurses in England rises – but union says patient demand is not being met

Latest figures show 8,570 more nurses, though number of health visitors has fallen
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Latest figures show 8,570 more nurses, though number of health visitors has fallen

The government has hailed statistics that show an increase in the number of nurses working in the NHS in England, but a union spokesperson says it is a fraction of what is needed.

The latest NHS workforce statistics published by NHS Digital show an increase of 8,570 nurses in England between November 2018 and November 2019 281,904 nurses compared with 290,474 respectively.

However, a separate set of NHS Digital statistics from the last quarter of 2019 show there are still 38,785 nurse vacancies in England.

Fall in number of health visitors and learning disability nurses

The workforce figures highlighted by the government do not include health visiting. The number of health visitors dropped by 805 between November 2018

Latest figures show 8,570 more nurses, though number of health visitors has fallen


Picture: iStock

The government has hailed statistics that show an increase in the number of nurses working in the NHS in England, but a union spokesperson says it is a ‘fraction’ of what is needed.

The latest NHS workforce statistics published by NHS Digital show an increase of 8,570 nurses in England between November 2018 and November 2019 – 281,904 nurses compared with 290,474 respectively.

However, a separate set of NHS Digital statistics from the last quarter of 2019 show there are still 38,785 nurse vacancies in England.

Fall in number of health visitors and learning disability nurses

The workforce figures highlighted by the government do not include health visiting. The number of health visitors dropped by 805 between November 2018 and November 2019. 

Learning disability nursing also lost 18 nurses in the same period.

‘Major, sustained funding increases’ are needed, says union

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said that while the overall nurse increase was welcome, it was just a fraction of what was needed to keep pace with rising demand.

‘Ministers have failed to invest enough in the NHS and nursing over the past decade, while patient demand has grown,’ she said.

‘It will take major, sustained funding increases to meet the challenge. Abolishing tuition fees for nurses would be a huge help.’

NHS England released statistics this week that show an increase in the number of hospital beds between October and December 2019, made possible by additional numbers of nurses, according to NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

The general and acute hospital bed increase meant hospitals opened an extra 1,192 beds compared with the number available the quarter before (July to September 2019).

Government still aims to deliver 50,000 more nurses

Responding to the workforce statistics, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said he was ‘determined’ to deliver on the government’s commitment to have 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in five years.

However, Mr Hancock did not comment on whether the latest increase in nurse numbers was enough to keep pace with demand. 


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