The number of nurses and health visitors working in the NHS has fallen for the first time in three years, according to a new King’s Fund analysis.
Since 2013, there has been a positive year-on-year percentage change in the number of staff in NHS hospitals and community health services, albeit at a varied rate and alongside rising demand. This year, however, experienced a negative percentage change which saw nursing numbers fall by around 0.5%.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The Government’s boasts of increasing nursing staff are starting to ring more than a little hollow. Since the stark warnings made by Robert Francis four years ago, Jeremy Hunt prided himself on rising numbers but this expert analysis reveals a decline.’
The report provides multiple reasons for this decline. It argues that a combination of poor pay, scrapping of student bursaries and the effect of the Brexit vote are all in part responsible for the reduction in staffing numbers.
Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund and author of the report, said: ‘It is worrying that the number of nurses is going down at a time when services are already overstretched and the demand for care is rising.’
The report suggests pay freezes and the recent scrapping of student bursaries has made the profession less appealing than it once was. The removal of bursaries, and the transferring of cost from government to would-be nurses, was justified on the basis that it would increase the number of training places available as the government would no longer limit places to save money.
However, the number of successful applicants to training schemes has fallen this year. This may be because the combination of student debt and stagnating pay is making the profession less financially viable.
Nevertheless, the Secretary of State’s recent announcement of a 25% increase in training positions is welcome, and may go some way in addressing the issue in the long run.
Brexit has also had an effect on the level of NHS staff. The report highlights the ‘double whammy’ of a ‘96 per cent reduction in the number of EU nurses joining’ since the vote and more EU staff leaving the NHS than ever before.
‘A lethal cocktail of extreme pressure inside the NHS, a collapse in European nurses and falling pay levels left the profession demoralised and people heading for the door,’ said Davies.