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Workforce: Risk to pandemic recovery due to nursing shortages

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There are huge gaps in the nursing workforce There are huge gaps in the nursing workforce

Nursing shortfalls, along with the backlog in routine care and growing need for healthcare, are likely to make recovering from the pandemic ‘particularly challenging,’ a new report by the Health Foundation suggests.

The report shows that although overall nursing numbers have gone up by 8% since 2010, the number of health visitors and nurses working in community nursing, mental health and learning disability services are all lower than they were in June 2010. The number of mental health nurses dropped by 8% in the 10 years to June 2020; health visitors dropped by 15%, there was a 12% drop in the number of community health nurses and a 39% fall in learning disability nurses.

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‘This independent report paints a bleak picture but it is one our nursing staff know all too well. There simply are not enough to care safely for patients in hospitals, clinics, their own homes or anywhere else,’ said RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair.

‘Following many years with insufficient workforce, boasts about increases will feel hollow. The heavy demand on NHS and care services, long before the pandemic, was outstripping modest increases in staff numbers in some parts.’

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The authors of the report say the long-term trends are particularly concerning as people with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general public, and the pandemic is likely to lead to increased demand for mental health services. Additional, analysis in the report shows that the impact of the pandemic is likely to drive up demand for mental health services by at least 11% a year and lead to an additional 1.8 million referrals over the next 3 years.

‘The dramatic falls in key areas highlighted here, such as mental health, show we are getting further from what is needed – not closer. The report highlights concerning figures on the ‘skill mix’ too. Nursing support staff are a fantastic part of the nursing team but boosting their number should not come at the expense of investing in the registered workforce,’ added Dame Donna.

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‘There is no quick solution to this crisis. It will take honesty and investment on the part of government – paying people fairly for their skill and expertise and supporting the next generation of nursing staff through their education.’

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