The South West has seen more qualified nurses leave the NHS than any other part of England, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
The union revealed the region’s drop in numbers as it stepped up its campaign against moves by trusts in the region to attack pay growth and terms and conditions.
Most of the trusts in the region have formed the South West Pay, Term and Conditions Consortium, which is aiming to make significant changes outside of the Agenda for Change national framework.
According to RCN analysis, the proportion of qualified nurses working for the NHS in the South West fell by 3.5% between May 2010 and May 2012, compared to an English average of 1.2%. The data was provided by the NHS Information Centre.
Overall the NHS workforce in the South West fell by 2.2% compared to an English average of 2.1%.
The RCN said the consortium‘s plans to reduce pay, terms and conditions could “exacerbate” problems in the region, “encouraging experienced staff to leave and compromising the care of patients”.
The union said, in addition, the region has below the national average number of qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors relative to the size of its population. The RCN said that is despite it having the oldest population in England, suggesting it would need more nursing care. Almost 20% of people in the South West are aged over 65.
The RCN published the figures today as part of its Frontline First campaign against nursing cuts. It said it accepted the South West faced financial challenges, but said it should make savings in other areas - such as the cost of supplies, drug waste, and private finance initiative contracts – before staffing.
RCN chief executive Peter Carter said: “The bare facts are this is an area in which the NHS is already struggling under the weight of increased demand from patients and fewer staff to service that demand.
“There is a demoralised workforce under huge pressure to help some of the UK’s most vulnerable patients. This is an increasingly fragile health landscape which requires long-term solutions looking at service redesign rather than simple cost-cutting.”
Chris Bown, chair of the south west pay, terms and conditions consortium steering group, and chief executive of Poole Hospital Foundation Trust, said: “We do not accept that any introduction of revised pay, terms or conditions will be followed by a wholesale exodus of staff from the south west, or a decline in the high quality care our patients receive.
“The consortium believes that the financial and operational challenges ahead cannot be met fully by further efficiency savings or service reconfigurations alone, opportunities for which are becoming limited.”