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Nurse recruitment struggling to meet demand

Analysts say NHS needs major overhaul of workforce planning and deployment

Mark Gould

Thursday, 31 March 2016

A new report by the Health Foundation says workforce figures published yesterday reveal that the government and national leaders need a radical new approach to inspire an NHS workforce that is too often "stressed, stretched and disaffected".

The workforce data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows that nurse numbers rose by just 1.1% over the six years to September 2015 with a total of 281,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts for nurses and health visitors in England.

The increase, described as "meagre" by the Royal College of Nursing, seems to indicate little progress to increase staffing rates in line with the recommendations of the report into the failings in the NHS in Mid-Staffordshire.

The figures are released against a backdrop of rising demand with GP referrals to hospital up 16% between 2009-10 and 2014-15 and emergency admissions through A&E units up 18% over the same period. Faced with a shortage of full time staff the NHS is filling gaps by spending on agency staff.

In its report, Fit for Purpose?, the Health Foundation provides an overview of NHS workforce policy in England and calls for an overhaul in how the NHS plans, trains, regulates, pays and, most importantly, supports its people. It highlights the lack of a nationally shared vision for the NHS workforce in England, around which the array of national bodies can coalesce.

Crucially, it concludes a new workforce strategy should include: a review of medical education to ensure that the billions of pounds we spend each year are training doctors with the skills and attitudes needed for the future NHS; the effective development and sustainable implementation of new roles to support high value care; and understanding why England continues to be beset with staff shortages and what needs to be done to address this for the long term.

Health Foundation director of policy Richard Taunt, said: "Workforce policy is critical to the NHS and, as the current nursing shortage shows, the stakes are high when it goes wrong. If we care about the NHS, we need to care about its people too. And in challenging times, it’s people working in the NHS who will improve quality and increase productivity – no one else. National leaders need to come together urgently to develop a long-term vision for the NHS workforce in England that brings the NHS frontline to the forefront of policy and revives its relationship with Whitehall around a common purpose - high-quality, compassionate care."

The government counters that more nurse training places are being created, with an increase of more than 15% between 2013-14 and 2016-17. A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are intensively supporting challenged trusts to improve finances, while clamping down on rip-off staffing agencies and helping hospitals become more efficient by sharing best practice across the service."

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