Real cuts in the number of NHS nurses – almost 1,000 in a month – have continued to emerge as more than 140 hospital foundation trusts plan to slash their workforce by 30,000 by 2016.
Latest figures, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, show the number of nursing posts in the health service dropped by 956 between March and April – leaving a total of 307,939 whole time equivalent nursing midwifery and health visiting staff.
This is almost 3,000 fewer than when the coalition government took office in May 2010, while the total headcount has reduced by more than 5,000.
The cuts in nurse numbers have been criticised as “dangerous” by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham. Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter highlighted recent scandals, saying: “Where nurse numbers are slashed, standards of care plummet.”
The figures were published last week, one day after latest three-year plans from 145 foundation trusts exposed plans to brutally cut the NHS workforce by 30,000 whole time equivalent staff in the next two financial years.
The annual review of FT plans by the regulator Monitor revealed there was a 4% fall in the number of nurses at their organisations during the last financial year, 2012-13.
During the current 2013-14 year, FTs plan to increase staff in response to the Francis report on Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and this month’s mortality review of trusts with high death rates the report, published by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh.
The Monitor reports said FTs are planning to recruit staff as a “short-term fix”, with 4,133, or 2%, more nurses along with 5,867 doctors, healthcare assistants and other frontline staff. They will off-set the cost of this year’s £500m recruitment by imposing a 39% cut in the use of bank and agency staff, the plans suggest.
But during the 2014-16, trusts are planning a return to staff reductions and want to cut 30,000 WTE staff, with a majority coming from nursing.
This is despite predictions by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence of a potential nursing shortage. It believes the NHS is likely to have 47,500 fewer nurses than it needs by 2016, as revealed by Nursing Times in June.
RCN policy director Howard Catton described the FT’s plans as a “classic example of boom and bust, yo-yo approach to workforce planning”.
“We have to move away from this, it’s not sustainable for the future,” he warned. The Francis and Keogh reports crossed the Rubicon in terms of making nursing cuts a patient safety issue.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said there was often a small drop in workforce figures in April as fixed-term contracts came to an end.
She said: “There are over 5,500 more clinical staff in the NHS since May 2010, while the number of admin staff, managers and senior managers has fallen by nearly 21,500.”