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Trends in NHS workforce continue in ‘negative direction’, says new report

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Frontline nursing numbers have fallen, despite additional pressures on their time

A new Health Foundation report for 2017 has shown no improvement in the state of the NHS workforce a year on from its last report, claiming that concerning trends from 2016 have ‘largely continued in a negative direction.’

The analysis showed that the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses working in NHS England fell between April 2016 and April 2017, despite ‘rising activity pressures’.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The drop in the number of nurses this year is deeply worrying, and particularly damaging when nurses are having to cope with rising numbers of patients.’

Although the report found that the number of people working in the NHS increased by 2% in the year to April 2017, this growth has been ‘uneven’. The occupations with the highest rates of growth were those who provide support to clinical staff (2.5%), medical consultants (3.5%), and management positions (4.3%) – meaning a noticeable lack of frontline staff.

Community nursing and mental health, two areas identified as vital to the success of the Fiver year forward view, have witnessed a notable decline in numbers. A recent Health Education England (HEE) report has shown that 11% of nursing posts in mental health are vacant, at a time of mounting recognition surrounding mental health problems in young people.

The report has also been highly skeptical of the governments ability to meet a number of its own workforce targets, including the commitment to raising the number or GPs by 5,000 and to create over 20,000 new mental health posts by 2020.

The foundation’s director of research and economics, Anita Charlesworth, said: ‘There is a growing gap between rhetoric about the government’s ambitions to grow the NHS workforce and the reality of falling numbers of nurses and GPs.

‘This year has been characterised by a series of one-off announcements and initiatives, beset by unrealistic timescales and no overall strategy.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We have a clear plan to ensure the NHS remains a rewarding and attractive place to work, including more flexible working for nurses and greater safeguards for junior doctors.’

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