The number of nurses working in the NHS has fallen again, with employers turning to cheaper healthcare assistants to plug the gaps, latest figures suggest.
Latest workforce data from the NHS Information Centre shows that for the 12 months between September 2011 and 2012, the number of registered nurses in England dropped by 2,283 – equivalent to 0.7%. But the number of healthcare assistants jumped 5.1%, a rise of 2,691, during the same period.
There is also strong evidence that trusts are also using more agency and bank staff.
Unions have increasingly raised concerns about reductions in qualified staff, changes to skill mix ratios and the resulting impact these trends may have on patient care.
Overall, the figures showed that a total of 1.36 million people were working in the NHS in England at 30 September 2012, down by 3,238, or 0.2%, compared to 2011.
NHS Employers director Dean Royles said: “The NHS is under enormous financial pressure so it’s hardly surprising that we have seen a reduction in workforce numbers.”
But Royal College of Nursing director of policy told a Healthcare Conferences UK event last week that he was “deeply worried” by the nursing workforce trend.
“There is evidence that we have entered back into the ‘bust phase’ of what nursing always does – boom and bust in terms of the size of the nursing workforce,” Mr Catton told delegates at the Nursing Staffing Levels and Skillmix conference in London.
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