Nursing Shortfalls Likely to Make COVID Recovery Challenging

15 December 2020

Liaison Workforce

The Health Foundation has published a new report that has concluded that nursing shortfalls over the last decade in the NHS across England are likely to make recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic particularly challenging.

The report says that if the government wants to ensure the health service does fully recover, it will need to exceed its target of 50,000 new nurses in England by 2024/25.

Of note, the report finds:

  • Increases in nursing numbers in recent years are likely to be insufficient in the face of growing health demand, worsened still by the pandemic.
  • Whilst the government target of 50,000 nurses is achievable, it could lead key service areas well short of the numbers needed, with community nursing, mental health and learning disability services all having less nurses than they had in June 2010.
  • Recent modest increases in nursing numbers are driven by temporary and return staff, initiated by the COVID response, and as a result will not go far enough to address long-term workforce shortages.
  • Nursing is the most significant workforce shortage area in the NHS, with the vacancy rate exceeding 10% in the summer. Registered nurses account for 45% of all vacancies in NHS hospital settings.

Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research at the Health Foundation, said:

“Nine months into the pandemic, the nursing workforce is under incredible strain. One in 10 nursing posts are vacant, and absence rates remain high. Our analysis shows that although nursing numbers are going up overall, in some areas they are lower than they were 10 years ago. This is hugely concerning as we are now in a situation where the number of people waiting for routine elective care exceeds 4 million and there is growing demand for mental health services.

“Fixing the nursing crisis is not just about getting more nurses into the system, it is also about ensuring the workforce is fully supported and we have nurses available where they are needed most, including in mental health services, learning disability services and in the community. This is absolutely critical to enabling the country to recover from the deep impact of the pandemic.”

Judith Shaw, Managing Director of Liaison Workforce, said:

“For trusts struggling with staff shortages, we will gladly work with them to find solutions which mitigate the difficulties. From optimising existing workforces with the use of a bank to put shift control in the hands of staff members, as well as allowing for greater workforce planning, to implementing a People Analytics platform which accurately identifies gaps and workforce trends, we can help to drive improvements in supporting staff and HR teams, both for permanent and temporary workforces.”

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