The declining size of the nursing workforce will not only affect the NHS, but will also have a direct and indirect impact on other employers of nurses in the UK, perhaps most evidently the adult social care sector.
Recent research by Skills for Care highlights major recruitment and retention issues around registered nurse roles in social care.
Some 61 per cent of new nurses come from completing an undergraduate degree in the UK and optimistically, UCAS data has revealed that 5,000 more students started a nursing degree in 2020 compared to 2019.
However, the NHS must sustain this increase and reduce the attrition rates from 1 in 4 students failing to graduate within four years, to 1 in 5, if the Government is to meet its 50,000 target of new nurses in England by 2024/25.
The report also suggests that the NHS must reduce the number of existing nursing staff leaving prematurely from 10.2 per cent to 8.5 per cent.
And, with 23 per cent of the UK’s nursing supply coming from international recruits, it is vital that international recruitment bounces back after the travel restrictions during the pandemic. The report suggests 5,000 international nurses need to join the NHS each year from 2021/22 to 2024/25.
Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “This independent report paints a bleak picture, but it is one our nursing staff know all too well.
“There simply aren’t enough to care safely for patients in hospitals, clinics, their own homes or anywhere else. The heavy demand on NHS and care services, long before the pandemic, was outstripping modest increases in staff numbers in some parts. The dramatic falls in key areas highlighted here, such as mental health, show we are getting further from what is needed – not closer.”
A nationally coordinated approach, which takes account of demand for nurses across the whole domestic labour market, is required:
- Data collection on the nursing profession and workforce must be improved. Currently, there is inadequate data on the numbers and distribution of nurses working in non-NHS sectors, such as nursing homes, social care and private sector independent hospitals, and poor data on the flows between these sectors. Without this data, supply scenarios are incomplete.
- There must be more clarity over who is responsible for aspects of national and regional planning and coordination of the NHS nursing workforce.
- There should be a review of the domestic nurse education system with the student experience streamlined to reduce attrition.
- There must be a sustained policy emphasis on investing in the retention of older and experienced nurses
- Nurses should be paid equitably over the long term.
Nevertheless, the report warns that the Government must exceed its 50,000 target if it is to fully recover from the pandemic.
By Bethany Hemsley