The NHS in England is “sleepwalking into a nursing crisis” that is drawing closer as the size of staff cuts increase, the Royal College of Nursing warned today.
The college has published a report updating on its Frontline First campaign, which was launched in July 2010 to monitor the threat of cuts to the NHS workforce.
The RCN said the number of NHS posts at risk of being cut in England had now “climbed” to 61,276, an increase of 6,000 since its last update six months ago when it identified 55,366 posts at risk.
The report also highlighted NHS Information Centre figures showing the total NHS workforce had decreased by 20,790 whole time equivalent posts since the coalition government came to power in May 2010.
Since then there has been a loss of 5,216 WTE qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting posts. The number of midwives has gone up by 943 WTE over the period, but the number of qualified nurses decreased by 6,147 and the number of health visitors slightly by 12.
Meanwhile, the total number of doctors has increased by 3,024 WTE and the number of qualified scientific, therapeutic and technical staff by 2,331.
The report stated: “If the government continues on its current path it will find itself stranded in a perfect storm of an ageing population with increasing health care demands, but without the adequate nursing workforce to deal with it.”
However, it said the creation of the new body Health Education England represented a “real opportunity” to take a “long-term approach to workforce planning and secure the future supply of nursing staff”.
Commenting on the report, RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “For the past two and a half years, the government’s consistent rhetoric has been that frontline posts and services are being protected. Sadly, that is simply not the case.
“On a daily basis, nurses are telling us that they do not have enough staff to deliver good quality care.”
Against the overall picture of falling posts, Nursing Times has found some NHS acute trusts – mostly in the Midlands – are recruiting more nurses to maintain the safety of patients. Their relative proximity to Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust may be a factor.
In addition, a Nursing Times investigation in October discovered that foundation trusts were deferring some staff cuts for a year or two because services were moving into the community more slowly than expected. However, this reprieve suggests they plan to cut harder in future.