The number of healthcare assistants working in the NHS has fallen by 4,042 since 2010, figures highlighted today by the Royal College of Nursing reveal.
The figures were published as part of the RCN’s Frontline First campaign which analyses data from the NHS Information Centre. It is the first time they have looked at figures for healthcare assistants.
RCN head of policy Howard Catton said while the reduction, which represents a small percentage of the overall workforce, could be acceptable if it was part of comprehensive workforce planning there was no evidence for that.
“It looks as if the changes to the numbers are driven by cuts,” he added.
The RCN also found a reduction of 4,837 full time equivalent registered nurses, midwives and health visitors between December 2009 and December 2012.
The RCN highlighted cuts to nursing posts as one of six “warning signs” that the UK is heading for a nursing shortage.
Other warning signs included increases in demand, a 13.7% cut in the number of pre-registration nurse training places commissioned over the last three years, and the high proportion of the workforce aged over 45 and so eligible for retirement in the near future.
The campaign, which publishes data regularly, also collects information on posts that have been put at risk by NHS trusts and foundation trusts. Researchers found 68,880 NHS posts had been earmarked to go between April 2010 and April 2015, with more than a third of these already gone.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said it was getting more difficult to obtain this information from trusts since the campaign began in 2010, suggesting the true number could be of posts at risk could be higher.
In February chief executive of the Centre for Workforce Intelligence Peter Sharp told Nursing Times a report they had compiled on behalf of the government identified a potential shortage of closer to 200,000 nurses by 2016.
Mr Carter said it was “very concerning” that the report had not been published yet and warned the shortage could force the NHS to recruit from countries overseas that could ill afford to lose their nursing workforce.
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said it was for hospitals to decide how many nurses they need and highlighted proposals in the chief nursing officer’s strategy that trust’s should publish their staffing levels and the evidence to support them.
He added: “Overall, the number of clinical staff in the NHS has increased and the number of admin staff has fallen by 18,000. In future, there will be a Chief Inspector of Hospitals who will take action if Trusts are found to be compromising patient care by not having the right number of staff on wards.”