Rise in nurses hits 50,000 target but many posts still unfilled
Despite ‘political’ recruitment target being met there are nurses on every shift still having to care for too many patients, says RCN
There are now more than 50,000 additional nurses working in the NHS in England compared with four years ago, but a nursing leader has warned it does not reflect the reality of demands on the health service.
New data published today show 51,245 more nurses working in the NHS in September 2023 compared with the same time in 2019. The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) says it shows the government has met its manifesto target early, since ministers had pledged to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024.
The department said it was the ‘largest ever sustained growth’ in the NHS nursing workforce and would help to tackle record high waiting lists.
‘We won’t stop here,’ says health secretary Victoria Atkins
Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘We have delivered on our promise but we won’t stop here. The first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan will help to retain our current workforce, reform clinical practice and deliver the biggest training expansion in NHS history, almost doubling the number of adult nurse training places by 2031.’
But the RCN said nursing staff would reject the ‘mission accomplished claims’ because there were still too many unfilled posts. Latest official figures show there were 42,306 nursing vacancies in the NHS in England in September.
Political target had no basis in the reality of demands on healthcare, says RCN’s Nicola Ranger
RCN director of nursing Nicola Ranger said: ‘This political target had no basis in the reality of demands on healthcare. There are still tens of thousands of nursing vacancies in the NHS.
‘On every shift, nursing staff are caring for too many patients. They’re spread perilously thin, leaving patients waiting longer and unable to provide the outstanding care that they want to.’
She added that the workforce plan, which promised to recruit between 170,000 and 190,000 more nurses by 2037, would ‘remain a pipe dream’ without proper investment and more detail on how it would be achieved.
Unison said the long-term workforce plan showed that the 50,000 nurses target was ‘both arbitrary and inadequate’, adding that the number of students starting nursing courses this year in England had plummeted by 12% from last year.
Boosting training and education routes into nursing helped meet the target, says DH
The DH said it had achieved the manifesto promise by boosting training and education routes into nursing, ethical recruitment of internationally educated staff and working to improve the retention of the existing workforce, including introducing non-repayable grants of £5,000 per year for students.
The government has faced heavy criticism for its reliance on overseas recruitment to fill staffing gaps in the UK, with the latest Nursing and Midwifery Council data showing a rise in the number of people joining from red-list countries – those that must not be targeted – such as Ghana and Zambia.
London South Bank University chair of healthcare and workforce modelling Alison Leary questioned the sustainability of the figures, saying the increase in nurses over the past few years reflected the ‘high rate’ of internationally educated nursing staff working in the NHS.
‘There is still a high vacancy rate, and the increase over the last few years is also a reflection of the high rate of internationally educated nurses coming to work in the NHS, which most organisations are now heavily reliant on,’ she told Nursing standard. ‘Although there is an increased supply, there is also increased loss of nurses and their expertise. We do not have a shortage of nurses in England, we have a shortage of people willing to work in the NHS.’
In other news