Analysis

MPs urge sweeping changes for nursing workforce

Commons health committee report warns of limited funds for standard community nurse training and staff shortages.

Commons health committee report warns of limited funds for standard community nurse training and staff shortages


The Nursing Workforce report says opportunities for advanced practice are becoming
limited. Picture: iStock

Cuts to nurse training budgets should be reversed as an immediate way to tackle the workforce crisis, according to a report by the Commons health committee. 

The MPs say the number of district nurses fell by 45% between May 2010 and May 2017, while community nurse numbers fell by 11% and school nurses by 19% over the same period.

The report, called the Nursing Workforce, says opportunities for advanced practice are becoming limited and it is difficult to pay for standard training for nurses in specialist areas such as community nursing. Too little attention has been given to stem the tide of departing nurses, say the influential group of MPs.

‘Be prepared to act quickly’ 

40,000

Nursing vacancies in the NHS in England 

The committee issued sweeping recommendations to the government, including a demand that ministers ‘be prepared to act quickly if there are signs the number of nurses in training are declining’ following the removal of the nursing student bursary.

The report says there are between 36,000 and 40,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in England alone – though it notes a lack of consensus on how the shortage should be measured.

The report quotes Health Education England as suggesting the shortfall is so high that around 3,000 of the vacancies cannot be covered by bank or agency staff.


RCN general secretary Janet Davies
Picture: Barney Newman

RCN general secretary Janet Davies called the report ‘the most important report on nurse staffing for many years’.

She says the report also acknowledges the two main reasons for nurses quitting – difficult working conditions
and significant cuts to continuing professional development.

Impact on morale and capacity

Queen’s Nursing Institute director of programmes Anne Pearson said: ‘Those that remain are working additional unpaid hours to meet rising demand, which has a further impact on morale and capacity.

‘The system at present is far too reactive and increasingly at odds with government rhetoric.’

Ms Pearson further warns Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships – a flagship policy of the government to improve community care and cohesion between health services and local authorities – will fail if the shortage of community nurses is not addressed.

‘The system at present is far too reactive and increasingly at odds with government rhetoric’ 

A major contributor to nurses leaving the profession has been cuts to nurse education, the report says. Using RCN evidence, the committee says CPD budgets have been cut from £205 million in 2015-16 to £83.5 million in 2017-18.

£22.5 million

The amount continuing professional development budgets have been cut since 2015-2016

The committee says NHS Employers had raised this as a ‘fundamental’ priority for national action. 

Right to expert care 

Chair of the Association of District Nurse Educators Julie Bliss said: ‘The continued lack of investment and recognition of community services and district nurse specialist practitioner is not only detrimental to the delivery of the policies, but a disservice to local communities who have a right to expert high-quality person-centred care in their own home.’

On pay, the MPs say the government must come forward with realistic proposals during pay negotiations. They welcome the lifting of the 1% pay cap, but say: ‘We caution that linking productivity to any pay rises must be realistic and recognise the existing pressure on, and productivity gains by, the nursing workforce.’ 

 

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