Older nurses should be advised to delay retirement, while part-time working in nursing services must be reduced, in order to plug future gaps between the supply of and demand for nursing staff.
This is the advice issued to health ministers in a government-commissioned report by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI). It warns that, in a worst case scenario, the NHS could face a shortage of 190,000 nurses by 2016, due to up to a third of the nursing workforce retiring. In the circumstances outlined, demand for registered nurses would rise from 600,000 in 2011 to 700,000 in 2016, but the supply would fall from 570,000 to 510,000.
The CfWI has advised the government to commission an adequate supply of training posts; reduce the training attrition rate; increase retention of graduates and staff; reduce the loss of nurses internationally; encourage working patterns closer to full time; encourage older staff to delay their retirement; and to develop a programme to encourage nurses to return to the profession.
Yvonne Sawbridge, NHS Alliance co-vice chair and nurse lead, said: 'Increasing retention of graduates and staff sounds obvious and, to do that, we need to create a working environment in which they are supported and developed.
But she warned 'it would be difficult to encourage working patterns closer to full-time' given the demographics of the workforce, which includes many women juggling family commitments with nursing careers.
'I am not convinced you can keep on a nurse [at retirement age] because it involves hard physical and emotional labour,' she added. 'I want to see the evidence that this wouldn't be counterproductive for patients or nurses.'