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Target of 50,000 more nurses is ‘missing the point’, says think tank

The King’s Fund says if the government wants to solve the staffing crisis, its target needs to be based on expected increase in demand for health and care services

The King’s Fund says if the government wants to solve the staffing crisis, its target needs to be based on expected increase in demand for health and care services

The government’s policy to recruit 50,000 more nurses in England’s NHS by 2024 is having ‘no clear impact’ on vacancy rates or nurse shortages in the NHS, according to health experts.

An investigation by think tank The King’s Fund concluded that even if the government hit its manifesto target, it was ‘still missing the point’, as current recruitment is not having any meaningful effect on the true scale of nurse shortages.

Recruitment targets must be based on ‘expected increase in demand’ for nurses

Since 2019

The King’s Fund says if the government wants to solve the staffing crisis, its target needs to be based on expected increase in demand for health and care services

Picture: iStock

The government’s policy to recruit 50,000 more nurses in England’s NHS by 2024 is having ‘no clear impact’ on vacancy rates or nurse shortages in the NHS, according to health experts.

An investigation by think tank The King’s Fund concluded that even if the government hit its manifesto target, it was ‘still missing the point’, as current recruitment is not having any meaningful effect on the true scale of nurse shortages.

Recruitment targets must be based on ‘expected increase in demand’ for nurses

Since 2019 the number of nurses in England has increased by 26,000. But with vacancies remaining at a steady 40,000, The King’s Fund’s policy adviser Jonathon Holmes said ministers need to regularly scrutinise the supply of, and demand for, nurses to truly tackle the problem.

Jonathon Holmes

‘Ministers are on track to hit their manifesto pledge of 50,000 more nurses by 2024, but this analysis shows the government risks hitting the target but missing the point,’ he said.

‘The NHS and social care workforce crisis long pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. It follows years of poor planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities.

‘Government efforts to recruit more staff are welcome, but unless the targets are based on the expected increase in demand for health and care services, they are unlikely to solve the staff shortages that have hamstrung the NHS and social care for years. It is time for ministers to recognise the workforce crisis as a priority.’

Government should regularly publish workforce projections, say researchers

The King’s Fund analysis found the staffing problem was most acute in Greater London, the North East, Yorkshire and the Midlands, while the North West and South West were the only regions to have made any ‘real progress’ on reducing vacancies.

The researchers said the only ‘real impetus’ to address the crisis would be to compel the government to regularly publish workforce projections. However, an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would have ensured just that has been rejected by the government twice – once at the end of March, and again last night.

Retirement and work pressures are factors in staffing crisis

The number of nurses leaving the NHS is set to accelerate as a significant proportion of the workforce approaches retirement age, and the relentless pressure on nurses is taking its toll on staff well-being, The King’s Fund warned.

While the government is focusing on international recruitment to rapidly plug staffing gaps, latest figures from NHS Digital show the number of nurses in England fell by 2,700 in 2021.

More clarity needed around staffing levels, says RCN

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘The government has not been transparent about how it calculates their figures and it is selling patients and nurses short.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told Nursing Standard there are 12,100 more nurses working in England than last year.


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