There has been a slight increase in the number of nursing staff working in Wales, but a decline in district nurses has continued, according to latest figures.
The Welsh Government workforce figures reveal NHS staffing trends between September 2011 and September 2012, and the preceding decade.
They show overall numbers of whole-time equivalent nursing midwifery and health visiting staff in Wales have increased by 10% over the last 10 years, from 25,506 in 2002 to more than 28,000 in 2012.
However, this increase has slowed in recent times, with little change in the nursing workforce over the last three years, even though demand for services has grown.
Between 2011 and 2012, the number of WTE nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff increased by just 81 people, from 27,999 to 28,080.
Of these, qualified staff increased by 46 to 21,779. Unqualified staff – defined as nursing assistant practitioners, nursery nurses, nursing assistants/auxiliaries and learners – increased by 36 to 6,301.
Healthcare assistants, which the Welsh Government classifies separately to nursing staff, also rose slightly between 2011-12, from 3,475 to 3,508. In contrast, the figures also reveal that the number of HCAs in Wales has jumped by 56% in the 10 years since 2002, when the total stood at 2,241.
When the figures are broken down further, they reveal that different groups with the nursing and midwifery professions have done better than others.
The numbers of registered midwives increased between 2011-12, from 1,165 to 1,223 – up from 1,120 in 2002 – and the number of health visitors also rose between 2011-12, from 739 to 781 – up from 657 in 2002.
However, the opposite was true of district nurses, despite continued warnings about the importance of moving more care into the community in order to reduce pressure on hospitals. The number of WTE district nurses fell from 823 in 2011 to 780 in 2012 – and down from 903 in 2002.
Earlier this month the Queen’s Nursing Institute highlighted “widespread and significant concerns” over the number of new district nurses being educated, after it investigated the numbers currently being trained in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The QNI warned the numbers being trained are “nowhere near the ‘replacement level’ required to maintain the district nursing workforce”, which has shrunk rapidly over the past 10 years as experienced nurses have left the role, principally through retirement.
The Welsh Government figures show that, as of 30 September 2012, over half of nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff in Wales worked in the acute, elderly and general sector. A further 19% worked in the mental health sector and just 13% in community services.
The total number of whole-time equivalent (WTE) staff employed by the NHS in Wales increased slightly by 152 to 71,969 between 2011 and 2012. Nurses, midwives and health visitors are the largest staff group, accounting for over a third of all health service staff in Wales.
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