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RCN: Government ignored 21 workforce warnings

stress nurse


The UK Government has ‘ignored’ 21 warnings about the nursing workforce since 2016, including ten in the last year, the RCN highlighted today.

The RCN is demanding the health and social care secretary be made fully accountable for the planning and supply of the health and care workforce in light of its evidence, which listed concerns around staff shortages or inadequate workforce planning made in various reports from influential bodies.

Warnings included from the National Audit Office saying the NHS ‘does not have the nurses it needs’ in March 2020, the Public Accounts Committee highlighting workforce concerns in June 2020 and the Health and Social Care Committee arguing shortages were a big driver of burnout in July this year. The full list is given below.

The RCN added that the Health and Social Care Bill – which was introduced to Parliament last week and aims to build on proposals set out in the NHS Long Term Plan – presents a ‘clear opportunity’ to ensure the workforce is properly planned.

Yet the Bill is ‘not fit for purpose’, it added. The RCN recommended the bill should mandate: 

  • Workforce reviews published every five, 10 and 20 years by the Government, taking into account at population need, data from across the sector and is independently verified
  • Ensuring a senior nurse sits on the board of the Integrated Care Systems
  • Ensuring that the commissioning of services is done in partnership with local communities
  • Ensuring that the voices of experts such as royal colleges are part of the regulation of the profession

Pat Cullen, RCN acting general secretary, said: ‘We went into this pandemic with almost 50,000 nursing vacancies in the UK – and the true scale of the shortage is unknown. The Government has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fix this problem and help a severely depleted workforce.’

This comes after umbrella-groups called this week for healthcare workforce requirements to be looked at annually following the announcement the HEE will carry out a one-off review of workforce trends.

The Royal College of Midwives estimates that an extra 2,000 midwives are needed to provide optimum care, while the latest NHS vacancy figures from March 2021 show 34,678 registered nursing vacancies. Social care is also experiencing chronic workforce problems, with one in ten nursing posts vacant in October last year.

The 21 reports containing workforce warnings ‘ignored’ by the Government

March 2016: Fit for purpose? Workforce policy in the English NHS, Health Foundation

July 2016: Staffing matters; funding counts, Health Foundation

October 2017: Rising pressure: The NHS workforce challenge, Health Foundation

January 2018: The nursing workforce, Health Select Committee

November 2018: The health care workforce in England, Health Foundation, King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust

March 2019: Closing the gap, Health Foundation, King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust

March 2019:Defining the role of integrated care systems in workforce development, NHS Confederation

June 2019: Interim NHS People Plan, NHS England

July 2019: Social care funding: time to end a national scandal, Economic Affairs Committee

November 2019: Falling short: the NHS workforce challenge, Health Foundation

March 2020: The NHS nursing workforce, National Audit Office

July 2020: NHS capital expenditure and financial management, Public Accounts Committee

September 2020: NHS nursing workforce, Public Accounts Committee

September 2020:The courage of compassion: Supporting nurses and midwives to deliver high-quality care, King’s Fund

September 2020: Creating the workforce of the future: a new collaborative approach for the NHS and colleges in England, NHS Confederation

October 2020: Social care: funding and workforce, Health and Social Care Select Committee

October 2020: Consultant workforce shortages and solutions: Now and in the future, BMA

October 2020: 590 people’s stories of leaving hospital during Covid-19, Healthwatch

December 2020: Building the NHS nursing workforce in England: Workforce pressure points, Health Foundation

May 2021: The Government’s White Paper proposals for the reform of Health and Social Care, Health and Social Care Committee

June 2021: Workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care, Health and Social Care Committee