New analysis from the Royal College of Nursing warns that the government’s target to recruit 50,000 nurses to the workforce to tackle the crisis facing the NHS is 'inadequate'.
The RCN says the figures show that the NHS continues to face dangerous staff shortages. In England, patient demand has outstripped 'modest growth of the NHS workforce', according to RCN. Since the pledge in 2019, the patient waiting list for elective care has grown over four times faster than the number of nurses recruited. There has been a 16 percent increase in nursing staff, while patient waiting lists have grown 70 percent since the target was set.
The official tally of nurse vacancies released by the NHS itself has fallen by little over 100 in the four years since the pledge was made – with 43,339 roles still unfilled in England’s registered nurse workforce compared to 43,452 at the time of the pledge. The Long-Term Workforce Plan announced in the summer this year must be given adequate funding to support its level of ambition, the RCN commented.
A Downing Street letter to the Department of Health in February 2020, released to the Covid inquiry, shows the early stated policy intention to rely on “notable additional international recruitment” to hit the target. Almost half (48%) of new joiners to the official NMC nursing register are now internationally recruited as a direct result.
RCN said that large-scale international recruitment is "expensive, unsustainable, and unethical" given global nursing workforce shortages. It states that many internationally educated nursing recent recruits having come from 'red list’ countries which the World Health Organization has warned face dangerous and pressing healthcare worker shortages and therefore should not be recruited from.
The RCN is calling o the government to do more to support people to come forward to study nursing domestically - this year, UCAS recorded a 12 percent fall in the number of people expected to take up nursing courses in England.
Widespread regional variation across England means there is "a postcode lottery for patient care", the RCN warned, with some areas having significantly fewer nurses. There are just 47 Nurses per 10,000 people across NHS services in Leicestershire, North Yorkshire, and Cornwall compared to 79 across North Central London.
Royal College of Nursing Director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “Not a single nurse will say that it feels like there are more staff now – they say the very opposite. When patient numbers and demand is so high, staffing levels become dangerously inadequate. It is unsafe for patients and professionals alike when one nurse cares for 10, 15 or more patients at a time and beds are put in corridors or other inappropriate places.
“The government’s political target was not based on calculation of patient needs and the international reliance shows they reached for short-sighted and unethical means rather than sustained domestic growth in nursing.
“The new Health Secretary must secure urgent investment in the nursing workforce now, to keep the staff we already have and recruit a new generation. This means abolishing tuition fees for nursing students and paying staff fairly. Only then will there be enough nurses to give patients the care they need and deserve.”