The number of qualified nursing staff recruited by the NHS in England has reached record levels, with numbers increasing by more than 3,000 in a single month.
The latest workforce data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows the total number of full-time equivalent qualified nursing, midwifery and health visitor staff in the NHS hit a total of 316,561 in October 2014 – its highest ever recorded level, and 3,047 higher than in September.
This is the largest single monthly increase seen in nurse staffing levels since monthly records began in September 2009.
In the acute sector the numbers of qualified nursing staff jumped by 1,752 in October also hitting a record total of 176,746.
“I hope one of the positive effects post Francis is that the ability of trust finances to completely trump any sensible thinking about nurse staffing has been reduced”
Professor Peter Griffiths
The numbers of staff working in community services, which has seen sustained decline in recent years, rose by more than 1,000 in September and October combined, to a total of 47,167.
The rapid recruitment of nursing staff reverses and exceeds the seasonal summer decline in 2014 and is further evidence of the so-called ‘Francis effect’ on nursing recruitment as trusts seek to boost staffing numbers following care failings at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
The Francis report sparked greater transparency in nurse staffing by NHS England, which now requires trusts to publish their staffing data, with guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also recommending improved staffing in adult wards and A&E departments.
There is mounting evidence that shows poor care begins to occur where nurse to patient ratios hit or exceed a level of 1:8.
The sudden surge in recruitment has driven many trusts to seek qualified nurses from overseas with an investigation by Nursing Times’ sister title HSJ in December revealing more than 5,788 nurses were recruited to the NHS in just 12 months.
Professor Peter Griffiths, an expert in nursing workforce from the University of Southampton, told Nursing Times: “It is pretty clear looking at these figures that nurse staffing is a central issue. The 1:8 ratio is actually a very modest figure and should really be only a bare minimum. In reality it is clear a lot of trusts are being really challenged by that figure.
“It does suggest there are large numbers of trusts where staffing is low by any international standard and they need to look searchingly at their staffing levels rather than finding reasons to explain it away.”
He added: “I hope one of the positive effects of the post Francis effect is that the ability of trust finances to completely trump any sensible thinking about nurse staffing has been reduced.”