Nurse numbers fall, as EU nationals head for the exit

Nurse and health visitor numbers in England fell by 1,071 in a 12-month period, latest data from NHS Digital revealed.

Nurse and health visitor numbers in England fell by just over 1,000 in a 12-month period, latest data shows.

‘A lethal cocktail of low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs
is driving nurses away' says Janet Davies. Picture: iStock

The figures from NHS Digital also revealed 3,885 nurses from the European Union (EU) left the health service between June 2016 and 2017.

According to NHS Digital, 282,603 registered nurses were working in English NHS hospital and community settings in June this year, down from 283,674 in June 2016.

Government slammed

The decline in full-time equivalent nurses led to Labour Party shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP condemning the government’s NHS workforce planning.

‘Cuts to training places and the disastrous pay cap have pushed staff to the brink and now nurse numbers are falling year on year because of the government’s disregard for NHS staff. 

‘Jeremy Hunt said mental health would be a priority for the government, but even mental health nurse numbers are falling.’

During the same period there were 903 fewer health visitors, falling from 9,491 to 8,588.

'Lethal cocktail'

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘A lethal cocktail of low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs is driving nurses away and patient care is suffering. 

‘When there are thousands of vacant nursing posts, the government desperately needs to keep experienced staff working in the NHS.’

The RCN has threatened to ballot for industrial action if the pay cap is not lifted in the autumn budget next month.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable called on prime minister Theresa May to guarantee the working rights of EU workers in the UK.

Rights guarantee

‘We are losing thousands of high-quality nurses and doctors from the NHS, driven partly by this government's heartless approach to the Brexit talks,’ he said.

‘Using EU nationals as bargaining chips is not only morally wrong, it is utterly counter-productive and damaging to our NHS.’

A Department of Health (DH) spokesperson told Nursing Standard said there were more than 11,300 more nurses on acute, older people's and general wards than in May 2010.

However, NHS Digital figures put the overall increase in nurses during the seven-year period between May 2010 and May 2017 at 2,674.

More home-grown talent

The DH spokesperson added: ‘We have also committed to funding an extra 10,000 places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals by 2020, to ensure the NHS has the staff it needs now and in the future.’

DH said the increased training will mean the NHS can recruit more home-grown talent from the thousands of student applications that are rejected each year.

The fall in EU nurse numbers was put partly down to more rigorous language tests being introduced in January 2016. The DH added that overall, across professions, there were 3,193 more EU nationals working in NHS trusts, and clinical commissioning groups in June 2017 than a year previous.

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