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Legal responsibilities for workforce planning should be enforced

A report released by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today has outlined the need for legislation that allocates specific responsibilities for workforce planning and supply. 

The report, ‘Standing up for patient and public safety’, sets out the impact of the nursing shortages on staffing levels across health and care services and on patient safety.  

It comes as the latest vacancy statistics for England show 43,617 nursing vacancies, leaving 12% of full-time nursing posts now unfilled. This is an increase of more than 10% since the previous quarter.  

To address the shortage, the College is calling for a fully costed workforce strategy, alongside clear legal duties and accountabilities for workforce supply. 

It says that legislation must ensure 'the right number of registered nurses and support staff with the right knowledge, skills and experience are in the right place at the right time'.  

Workforce data must be collected by arm’s length bodies, such as NHS Improvement and NHS Digital, while regulatory bodies such at the Nursing and Midwifery Council must communicate workforce supply trends with the Department of Health and Social Care, the report argues. 

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said that the Government has not made any pledge on workforce planning 'despite the public, patients and nurses all agreeing that clarity is needed'.  

She continued: ‘We know how dangerous it can be when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care, but at present, almost all accountability rests with the frontline nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system they work in.   

‘We believe the time has come for change and that patient care was future-proofed by law, and that from the government down, decision makers are held to account.’ 

The report comes amid repeated calls from the RCN for at least £1 billion additional funding every year to boost the number of people studying nursing, expand clinical placements and increase workforce development. 

Earlier this week, NHS Providers said that nursing shortages is the ‘most concerning’ shortfall across the NHS.   

In September, NHS England and NHS Improvement recommended that the Government should 'revisit' national responsibilities relating to workforce