Nursing could be heading for a ‘crisis’ with a Government that does not understand its workforce, Westminster’s spending watchdog said today.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) nursing workforce report highlighted the NHS is relying on a short-term surge in overseas recruitment to meet the commitment for 50,000 nurses by 2025, made in November.
But it pointed out that tens of thousands of nurses are quitting the profession every year, and staff are showing signs of burnout since the Covid-19 outbreak – on top of nearly 40,000 existing nursing vacancies.
In addition, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Health Education England, were ‘still developing a model to understand and quantify the demand for nurses’ in March – months before the pledge, the report noted.
The PAC report stated: ‘The Department could not show that its commitment to 50,000 more nurses by 2025 matches the actual need for nurses in the NHS.
‘It is essential that the NHS understands not just how many nurses it needs, but where and in what specialism.’
In addition, the PAC said it was ‘not convinced’ the Government has ‘plans for how the NHS will secure 50,000 more nurses by 2025’.
Relying on overseas nurse recruitment was a ‘risky strategy’ because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, it added.
The committee warned there were ‘worrying indications that the NHS has reverted from long-term planning to short-term firefighting’.
It raised concerns over the approach to tackling nursing shortages in adult social care, which it said remains an ‘afterthought’ in NHS planning.
The second part of the overdue NHS People Plan, originally scheduled for 2019 but now due for after the next Spending Review, must be ‘prioritised’, it said.
The first part, published in July 2020, focused on enhancing NHS culture and leadership. But the second part will cover plans to ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs.
The PAC said: ‘This will mean nearly two years between the January 2019 NHS Long Term Plan and the full workforce plan that was meant to support it.
‘It is also frustrating to hear health bodies still citing the same reason—a lack of long-term funding for workforce education and training.’
In July, a RCN survey found 36% of nurses were considering quitting the profession, largely because of pay, up from 28% before the pandemic, it also noted.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said the existing shortages, low morale, and others considering leaving mean we could be ‘facing an emerging crisis in nursing’.
She continued: ‘We fully recognise that the NHS is reeling under the strain of Covid-19, with staff unsure how they will cope with the second wave that it seems clear already upon us.
‘But it must not take its eye off the ball and allow a slide back into short-term, crisis mode,’ she added.
‘It must press on with coherent plans to get the nursing workforce back to capacity, under the kind of working conditions that can encourage hard-won, hard-working nurses to stay in our NHS and care homes.’
RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The findings of this report reflects what our members have been highlighting for years – a lack of planning and funding for the workforce is causing major issues, exacerbated by the pandemic.’
The King’s Fund think tank also released a report today, calling on healthcare leaders to ‘transform the working lives of nursing and midwifery staff’.
The Courage of Compassion report came up with eight recommendations, including giving nurses and midwives greater authority at work, improving working conditions, and fostering and developing effective teamworking.
Earlier this year, another PAC report found that care homes were ‘thrown to the wolves’ during the pandemic.