Changes to immigration rules when the UK leaves the EU, combined with the ageing nursing workforce could create a 'perfect storm' in the NHS, research from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found.
The inflow of nurses increased to 11,261 last year. This is the highest it has been since 2004/5 and represents 40% of the total new entrants to the NMC register. The majority of these nurses are from the European Economic Area, which could be put at risk when the UK leaves the EU.
According to the RCN, 7% of the nursing and midwifery workforce and 5% of the nursing auxiliary and assistant workforce were born in another EU country. In the NHS, 6% of the nursing and midwifery workforce and the nursing auxiliary and assistant workforce were born in another EU country.
‘The trends indicated in this report add up to a perfect storm of risks to the future supply of nursing staff. Many of these risks could have been avoided, and now immediate action is required,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN. ‘The government has largely ignored the crisis facing the nursing workforce. Its only action so far has been to change the way nurse training is funded, introducing loans which mean that future nurses will be expected to take on debts with little prospect of fair pay when they graduate.’
The data highlights an unprecedented number of risk factors which affect the future supply of safe staffing levels, such as uncoordinated workforce planning, changes to student nurse funding, and cuts to nurse pay. The report shows that in 2006, a third of the nursing workforce in England was aged 45 or over, today half of nurses are within 10 years of being eligible for early retirement at 55. Additionally, nursing staff have suffered a real terms cut in pay of 14% since 2011.
‘Patient safety will be at risk without immediate action to secure the future supply of nurses,’ added Ms Davies. ‘This crisis requires a coordinated, long-term strategy to train more nurses and an above inflation increase in pay to help our current staff make ends meet.’