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NHS hospitals face shortfall of 15,000 nurses, says workforce analysis

Major factor is steep fall in nurses from outside Europe joining NHS each year

Caroline White

Thursday, 18 February 2016

NHS hospitals are facing a shortfall of around 15,000 nurses, as demand has continued to outstrip supply over the past couple of years, finds a workforce analysis,* published by NHS Improvement this week.

A major factor is the steep fall in the number of nurses from outside the European Economic Area joining the NHS each year, says the report.

The push to boost the nurse headcount followed the publication of the Francis Report in February 2013, which recommended higher staffing levels to boost patient safety. Nevertheless, the recent increase has only returned the nurse:patient ratio to where it stood at the end of 2011, says the report.

Hospitals’ demand for acute care nurses in 2014 was 189,000— around 7,000 more than hospitals had been forecasting just a year earlier, and 24,000 more than was forecast two years earlier. Demand shows no sign of abating, says the report.

But supply has failed to keep up with the rapid growth in demand, prompting an estimated shortfall of 15,000 hospital nurses, says the report.

A major factor is fall in the number of nurses from outside the European Economic Area joining the NHS each year, says the report. This figure has fallen by over 95% from its peak of more than 15,000 in the early 2000s.

Inevitably, this has driven up the cost of agency nurses, charges for which rose by around 30% between 2012 and 2015, says the report.

But this shortfall has been offset, to some extent, by productivity improvements, says the report. These include reductions in average length of stay. Without this, an extra 5,000 nurses at a cost to the NHS of about £250 million at agency rates would probably be needed, says the report.

Donna Kinnair, RCN Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice, commented: “A shortage of full time staff has consequences for patients and hospitals alike – fewer full time staff impacts on the patient experience whilst the cost of agency nurses soars. The only long-term solution to dealing with agency costs is by training more full time nurses so that supply can meet demand.”


* Evidence from NHS Improvement on clinical staff shortages - A workforce analysis. NHS Improvement, February 2016.

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