Report highlights crisis in nursing numbers

A report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee finds high levels of staff shortages and worries that more than a third of nurses are contemplating leaving the profession in the next year.

woman in wheelchair being taken care of by nurse, with doctor talking to another nurse in background


The NHS is carrying 40,000 nursing vacancies with tens of thousands leaving every year and 36% of current workforce considering leaving in the next year, according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee.

The Committee says that although the Government has committed to 50,000 more nurses by 2025,  it does not understand the nursing needs of the NHS and does not know how many nurses are needed, or where and in what specialism.

It states that the NHS is relying on a substantial short-term increase in overseas recruitment as part of meeting that commitment for 50,000 nurses, but that the pandemic has shown how this strategy very risky. It highlights worrying signs of burnout and says the staffing crisis was evident before Covid-19, with tens of thousands of their nurses leaving the profession every year.

A recent Royal College of Nursing survey has shown that 36% of respondents considering leaving nursing in the next year, up from 28% before the pandemic. When asked about why they are considering leaving, two thirds cited low pay; while almost a half of respondents cited low staffing levels, the way nursing staff had been treated during the pandemic or lack of management support.

The report says that there are “worrying indications that the NHS has reverted from long-term planning to short-term firefighting. This is not good enough for the over-stretched NHS workforce”. It says the pace of progress on increasing the number of NHS nurses was already “too slow”, while efforts to increase the numbers in undergraduate nursing degrees – which anyway take years to come to come to fruition – having “signally failed”.

The report also finds that “the nursing needs of social care remain an unaddressed afterthought for the Department of Health & Social Care”.  Vacancies for nurses in social care increased from 4% in 2012-13 to 10% in 2018-19, while the number of registered nursing posts in social care has fallen by 20% since 2012-13.

Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The picture from the front line of nursing in the NHS and care homes is not good. I fear with the strain of a huge shortage of nurses and the worrying reports of low morale and huge numbers considering leaving in the next year, we are facing an emerging crisis in nursing.

“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. 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.”

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