Nursing vacancies could double in 10 years, warns report

Latest workforce statistics show nursing posts now account for more than one in 10 vacancies across England

The number of nursing vacancies across England will more than double over the next 10 years if action is not taken to improve recruitment, a healthcare charity has warned.

The Health Foundation said the number of vacancies could expand from 44,000 today to 100,000 within a decade at the rate the growing demand for nurses was currently outstripping supply.

In its annual Falling short: the NHS workforce challenge report, the charity said nursing remained a “key area of shortage and pressure” for the NHS, with posts in the field accounting for more than one in 10 (12 per cent) vacancies in England last year, according to its analysis of NHS workforce data.

Over the last 10 years, the number of nurses per doctor has fallen from three to 2.6.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the report was “sobering reading” and added: “Workforce is the number one concern among health leaders, and for good reason.

“All the major political parties have identified the staffing challenge in their manifestos and this is welcome. What we need to see from an incoming government is urgent action to address what are now widespread shortages among doctors, nurses and other key staff,” Dickson added.

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Across NHS England, the report found there had been an increase of 2.8 per cent in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in the year to March 2019, compared to the previous year. At the same time, the number of posts advertised as vacant over the first quarter of 2019 was 2.4 per cent higher than the same time last year, the report said.

The number of nurses also varied across areas. Children’s nursing saw an increase of 2.7 per cent over the year to March 2019, while mental health nursing saw an increase of just 0.6 per cent, and community nursing (excluding health visitors) saw 0.7 per cent.

The report urged action to increase the numbers of nurses in training, reduce attrition and improve retention.

“If the NHS is to reduce vacancies and grow the pool of qualified nurses to recruit from, the forthcoming NHS People Plan will need to set out measures that will rapidly expand the number of people starting undergraduate nursing degrees in England,” it said.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The huge number of unfilled vacancies has become a fundamental problem for the NHS.

“The disastrous decision to axe the NHS bursary has made it increasingly difficult for many potential nurses to train. Financial support must be improved, with every healthcare student offered grants and tuition fees scrapped.”

Separately, the Nuffield Trust has called for more to be done to improve recruitment and retention in the health and social care sector.

In its report, Social care: the action we need, the think tank outlined a number of reforms it thought were needed, including a “realistic and comprehensive workforce strategy” to meet the demands of an ageing workforce.

Its recommendations included a concerted effort to improve pay and effective enforcement of the national minimum wage; improved employment security; and better professional development and progression opportunities for those in the sector.