The number of qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors employed in the NHS in Wales has risen slightly in the last year, new figures show.
According to the latest Welsh government statistics, published in a report last week, there were 22,479 whole-time equivalent nurses, midwives and health visitors employed by the NHS in 2016.
“We recognise there’s always more work to be done”
This figure represents a 1.3% rise since the previous year – equivalent to 287 more nurses and midwives.
Meanwhile, the number of unqualified nursing staff, including nursing assistants and assistant practitioners, increased by 6.4% from 6,492 in 2016 to 6,909 in 2016.
Overall, there was a 2.5% increase in all types of nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff.
A breakdown of the figures for qualified nurses and midwives shows just over a 10% increase in the number of nurse managers, from 572 in 2015 to 630 in 2016.
However, there were just 21 nurse consultants directly employed by the NHS in Wales in 2016, with numbers falling steadily from 55 in 2009.
The figures indicate a short-term increase in community nurses – including district nurses, community psychiatric nurses and community learning disability nurses – from 520 to 675. However, when looked at over a longer period the numbers have dropped, down from 876 in 2010.
“We have to continue to increase the number of training places in order to meet the demand”
Meanwhile, the number of health visitors was down on the previous year, from 896 in 2015 to 870 in 2016 – a reduction of 2.9% – the first time there has been a drop in several years.
As of September 2016, more than half – 57% – of nursing staff worked in the acute, elderly and general sector.
In addition, 17% worked in mental health, 14% in community services and 7% in maternity, including neonatal.
The number of healthcare assistants increased 2.9% from 3,308 in 2015 to 3,406 in 2016, with the vast majority – 97.5% – working in nursing services.
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Overall, the figures show the number of WTE staff employed by the NHS in Wales is at a record high.
As of September last year, there were 76,288 staff directly employed by the NHS up 3.2% from the previous year – an extra 2,330 people.
The figures show nursing, midwifery and health visiting is the largest staff group, accounting for 39% of all staff.
The next largest group is administration and estates at 22%, followed by scientific, therapeutic and technical staff at 16% and healthcare assistants with other support staff at 12%.
Statistics on GPs practices in Wales have also been published and show there were more than 1,300 nurses working in GP surgeries as of September 2016, including more than 800 practice nurses.
The figures show there were also 200 senior nurses such as advanced nurse practitioners, nurse prescribers, nurse managers and practice development nurses, and 273 extended role nurses with expertise in a specialist area like diabetes or asthma.
The staffing figures were welcomed by Welsh health secretary Vaughan Gething, who said the record numbers of staff was “clearly good news” and had been achieved despite cuts to the Welsh Government budget.
“We recently announced a significant package to support a range of education and training programmes for healthcare professionals in Wales,” he said. “The good progress we’ve made around staffing… is a positive but we recognise there’s always more work to be done.”
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The increase in qualified nurse numbers was also welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing in Wales.
“This is moving in the right direction, however, we have to recognise that there is a shortage of nurses across Wales and the UK and, therefore, we have to continue to increase the number of training places in order to meet the demand,” said Tina Donnelly, director of RCN Wales.
“Whilst we are extremely supportive and are glad to be working with the Welsh government to increase nursing numbers, we need to ensure safe patient care and this is dependent upon the right number of health care professionals and nurses with the right skills to deliver appropriate levels of care,” she added.