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UK falls behind rest of the world in nurse numbers, think tank reports

A drop in the number of nurses compared to population size has seen the UK lag behind other major world economies, according to analysis by a think tank

A drop in the number of nurses compared to population size has seen the UK lag behind other major world economies, according to analysis by a think tank


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The number of nurses per 1,000 of the population dropped from a peak of 10.2 in 2005 to just under eight in 2015, the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) notes.

The think tank, which specialises in policy on longevity, ageing and population change, analysed world health statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Its analysis shows France saw the exact reverse to the UK in the same period – a rise from under eight nurses per 1,000 head of population in 2005 to 10.2 in 2015. Meanwhile, Germany jumped from more than 11 to nearly 13.5 nurses, and the United States from 10.5 to 11.2.

Recommendations for UK government 

  • Expand the number of training courses available to nursing students – including recognising the contribution students on placement make to the NHS when planning funding.
  • Retain nurses once they are trained – also acknowledge that strain on smaller workforces increases the risk of patient death and worsens staff morale and capabilities.
  • Recognise the role of migrants in the NHS – the authors call on government to ‘lead the way’ in creating an environment where migrant nurses are valued and respected.

The analysis comes after NHS Digital showed over 34,000 vacancies for full-time nursing jobs were posted between July and September 2017.

The think tank also highlights how 11% of nurses leaving the NHS in 2016 were from the European Union, while only 12% of those joining were from EU member countries.

Its analysis notes: ‘We argue that with nursing shortages gripping the NHS it is time to evaluate how recent policy has failed to get to grips with the problem and develop a new strategic framework to improve the participation of nurses in the health service.'

'Hampering NHS ability'

It criticises policies which have ‘diminished the attraction of the profession’, especially last year’s decision to scrap the NHS bursary and make nursing students fund their own studies.

ILC-UK assistant economist Dean Hochlaf said: ‘The combination of work strain, wages, training costs, available placements and uncertainty for migrant workers is hampering the ability of the NHS to train and retain nursing staff.

‘The escalating issue of nursing shortages has numerous causes, some of which the government has identified and are addressing, but there remain many areas where improvements must be made.’

Further information

Nursing an open wound – Healthcare demand and nursing supply


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