Numbers of health visitors, school nurses and learning disability nurses in England have continued to fall over the past year, shows analysis of the latest NHS workforce statistics by Nursing Times.
While overall nurse numbers have increased the figures, published by NHS Digital, show efforts to boost nursing numbers have yet to make up for a general decline in the workforce, especially in mental health.
The monthly figures show that, as of July 2018, there were 282,661 full-time equivalent nurses and health visitors working in NHS hospitals and community services. This is an increase of 0.5% on the previous year – nearly 1,300 more full-time roles.
When it comes to actual numbers, the figures show there were 317,231 individual nurses and health visitors in place – up 0.6% on July 2017 – or 1,746 more bodies on the ground.
While the figures show nursing numbers have increased over the past eight years, there are just 2,720 more full-time equivalent nurses now than in July 2010, despite a dramatic upsurge in demand for services.
Meanwhile, a breakdown for different fields of nursing shows numbers have fallen in key areas including learning disability nursing.
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As of July 2018, the data shows there were 3,199 full-time equivalent learning disability nurses working in hospitals and the community – down from 3,323 in July 2017 – 124 fewer nurses.
The latest drop continues a steady decline in numbers, with more than 2,000 fewer learning disability nurses working in the profession than there were eight years ago.
The figures also show health visitor numbers have declined over the past year from 8,449 in July 2017 to 7,852 in July 2018 – nearly 600 fewer health visitors.
This is nearly 2,500 staff down on a peak of more than 10,300 in October 2015.
While the community nursing workforce increased very slightly between 2017 and 2018 to 35,091 – numbers are down from a peak of nearly 42,000 in January 2010 – more than 6,850 fewer nurses.
School nurses – who are included in the community nursing stats – saw full-time numbers drop from 2,422 in July 2017 to 2,213 in July 2018 – nearly 210 fewer school nurses. Numbers of full-time school nurses have fallen steadily from more than 3,000 in 2010.
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The stats show the number of full-time equivalent mental health nurses increased from 35,202 in July 2017 to 35,374 in July 2018, but there are more than 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were eight years ago.
Meanwhile, the number of full-time equivalent adult nurses increased by more than 1,300 to 178,582 over the 12 months from July 2017 to July 2018 year, while the number of children’s nurses increased by 470 to 22,192.
The figures show the number of midwives working in hospitals and community services has increased steadily with 21,482 full-time equivalents as of July 2018 – up by 0.9% on the previous years – just over 200 more midwives.
While midwife numbers have increased by about 2,500 in the past eight years, there is ongoing concern that the size of the maternity workforce is insufficient to meet demand.
Meanwhile, the healthcare support workforce has continued to grow with 246,060 full-time equivalent workers providing support to doctors, nurses and midwives in July 2018.
This up 1.1% on the previous year with more than 2,500 additional full-time staff in place.
The number of full-time nursing support staff increased to 151,834 up from 148,810 the previous year – more than 3,000 additional healthcare assistants and support workers.
The figures show the nursing support workforce has swelled by more than 17,000 since September 2009.
A regional breakdown shows that some areas – including parts of the capital – have seen a fairly significant increase in nursing and midwifery numbers in the past year.
For example, North West London saw full-time equivalent nursing numbers increase by 4.1% – 567 more nurses – while South London saw a 3.2% rise for nursing and midwifery, with nearly 550 more nurses and 50 more midwives.
However, six out of the 13 areas saw a drop in full-time equivalent nurses and seven saw a dip in midwife numbers.
The West Midlands saw full-time nursing numbers drop by 2.6% – nearly 790 fewer full-time staff – while midwife numbers were down 5%, with 121 less full-time staff.
A spokesman for NHS Digital said this last trend was due to Burton hospital transferring to Derby Hospitals trust, which is within the East Midlands.