The NHS is facing 'an emerging crisis' as COVID-19 exacerbates existing shortages and poor morale in nursing, the Public Accounts Committee's (PAC) NHS nursing workforce report has found.
According to the report, despite a range of actions to resolve the long term issue of workforce shortages in nursing, including tackling worsening retention rates, problems have persisted. Additionally, it found that despite overall increases in the numbers of nurses over the last 10 years, the NHS does not have the nurses it needs, with around 40,000 nursing vacancies, or 12% of posts.
PAC Chair Meg Hillier MP said: '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.'
‘The findings of this report reflects what our members have been highlighting for years – a lack of planning and funding for the workforce is causing major issues, exacerbated by the pandemic,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, General Secretary and Chief Executive of the RCN.
‘We share the committee’s view that there must be a proper long-term plan for the nursing workforce in England, and support the recommendation for national plans to include issues of pay, to increase recruitment and retention. A recent RCN survey found that a 35% of respondents are thinking of leaving the profession this year, with more than half citing pay as a factor.’
The NHS Long Term Plan signalled the need for an increase in the number of nurses, and in December 2019 the government confirmed its pledge of 50,000 more NHS nurses by 2024. It also announced the reintroduction of maintenance grants for nursing students from September 2020. However, the report cites the pandemic and other factors as obstacles to achieving this.
‘Student nurses should not have to pay fees and their maintenance grant must genuinely reflect the expense of studying. Government must now be aiming for ‘oversupply’ after years of under-investment if they hope to meet demand,’ added Dame Donna.
‘Failure to take concrete action on the recommendations of this report will drive more away from a career in nursing and leave greater numbers of patients without the care they deserve. England deserves, like Scotland and Wales, a law which sets out responsibilities and accountability for workforce planning and supply throughout the health and care system.’