The chief executive of a national regulatory body has warned that he thinks it will be more than five years before the number of nurses the NHS needs becomes available to the service.
Ian Dalton, the chief executive of NHS Improvement, was speaking to senior health service leaders ahead of the publication of the NHS long term plan and national workforce strategies.
“Nursing he thinks will be harder, and break even will take longer than five years”
He said he believed that, by the end of the first five years of these plans, supply and demand of the medical workforce would “break even”, reported Health Service Journal.
However, Mr Dalton said that the shortfall of nurses was harder to solve, and that he expected reaching break even would take longer than five years.
His comments were made earlier this month at a closed session held by the organisation NHS Providers but have been recorded in a hospital trust chair’s public report to her board.
In the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust board paper, chair Sue Sjuve said: “On workforce, [Ian Dalton] noted 40,000 nursing vacancies, high numbers of medical vacancies.
“Ian Dalton’s intention is that by the end of five years we will be at break even in supply and demand of medical staff, nursing he thinks will be harder, and break even will take longer than five years,” she said.
“NHS Improvement is working with challenged trusts on retention rates and on international recruitment at scale, and on return to practice, though numbers from that will be relatively small, and training will increase numbers,” she added.
According to latest figures from NHS Improvement, there has been a slight drop in the number of NHS nurse vacancies, but it warned earlier this month that filling gaps remained a big challenge.
Whole-time equivalent nursing vacancies reduced from 41,337 in the first quarter of 2018-19 to 40,877 in the second quarter. The vacancy rate fell marginally from 11.7% to 11.6%.
However, the situation was still worse than a year ago. In quarter two of the 2017-18 financial year, there were 39,154 empty nurse posts, equating to a vacancy rate of 11.2%.
In its report, the regulator said the decrease from quarter one to quarter two was the result of “expected substantive recruitment aligned with new graduate outturn during the quarter”.
However, it warned that vacancies remained a particular challenge for the nursing workforce, adding: “every unfilled shift poses an operational challenge on the front line”.