The RCN has delivered a cool response to figures released by NHS which show that the number of nurses in England has increased by 13,718 compared with last year. The news had been greeted by Health Secretary as ‘fantastic’. As a nation, we are immensely proud of our health and care staff who work round the clock to keep us safe,’ he said. ‘By the end of this Parliament we will deliver on our commitment of 50,000 more nurses.’
But the the RCN was less effusive. ‘Whilst seeing more nursing staff is welcome, no one should be mistaken – these figures aren’t a sign that Government strategy is working,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive.
‘This increase, only seen in the past year, must be seen against a backdrop of tens of thousands of nursing vacancies in the NHS. It is dwarfed by further gaps in the social care workforce which has seen nursing numbers fall by around 30% since 2012. The Government needs to accept workforce planning to this point has been unfit to meet the growing health and care needs of the population.’
The figures, which run to the end of July also included former healthcare professionals who had volunteered to return to the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic – 598 returners were identified, including 147 nurses and health visitors.
But the RCN pointed to an NMC analysis of the COVID-19 temporary register which found that only 50 per cent of returning professionals would consider rejoining the permanent register.
‘Government ministers can’t forever rely on the goodwill of recently retired nurses who came back into service, or the goodwill of the students who disrupted their studies to help the efforts against this pandemic,’ said Dame Donna. ‘The single best way to get all returning staff to stay, and attract more into our profession, is to pay them fairly for the job they do – unfair pay drives too many experienced people out of the profession.’