A 3% rise in the number of nurses last year is not enough for the Government to deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2025, a thinktank has warned.
The 8,570 increase in the number of nurses in England – rising from 281,905 whole-time equivalent nurses in November 2018 to 290,474 in November 2019 – also represents a ‘small fraction’ of what is required to meet rising patient demand, a union has told Nursing in Practice.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the workforce figures, released by the Government last week, showed the Department of Health will ‘make good on its commitment’ to deliver 50,000 more nurses, pledged in the build-up to the election last year.
However, the recent boost in nurse numbers falls below the 10,000-nurse average annual increase needed to reach the ambitious target, independent thinktank the Nuffield Trust has said.
‘The Government has committed to delivering 50,000 more nurses in five years suggesting that, each year, the increase will have to be some 10,000 and, therefore, above the level observed in the past 12 months,’ senior fellow in health policy at the Nuffield Trust Billy Palmer told Nursing in Practice.
Although Mr Palmer recognised ‘[the rise] is the largest increase in a decade’, he pointed out that even during a ‘record expansion’ in the number of nurses, midwives and health visitors between 2000 and 2005, the increase ‘was less than 47,000’. This underlined the ‘ambitious nature’ of the 50,000 target, he suggested.
He also highlighted that health visitor numbers – which were not included in the 8,570 figure – fell ‘dramatically’ by 805 in the same time frame, from 7,780 to 6,975.
Executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting Dr Cheryll Adams said it is ‘very disappointing’ to see health visitor figures merged with nurse numbers ‘suggesting a much better picture for health visiting than is really the case’.
Ms Adams added that health visitor numbers surged from a low of 7,375 in 2012 to a height of 10,309 in 2015 due to government investment but that ‘sadly’ numbers have since slumped to the lowest levels in the past decade.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton stressed that ‘there remains major shortages and huge pressures on nurses across the NHS, particularly in areas such as mental health and community nursing.’
Although mental health nurse numbers are up by 915 from a year ago to 37,314, they are still down by 3,496 from the same point in 2009.
‘This [3%] rise is still only a small fraction of the increase needed to deal with rapidly growing demand – and for staff to care for patients safely,’ Ms Gorton added.
‘Major, sustained funding increases are needed to meet these [workforce] challenges and the abolition of tuition fees for nurses would be a huge help.’