The number of nurses working in the NHS has fallen again in June, according to the latest workforce statistics.
Data released by the NHS Information Centre shows there were 632 fewer full-time equivalent qualified nurses employed during the month of June, compared to May this year.
There has also been a dip in health visitor numbers, which are down by 89 FTEs from 8,190 in May to 8,101 in June. There were small monthly increases in the number of midwives and school nurses of 38 and nine, respectively.
The data shows that over the last 12 months the number of qualified nurses working in the sector has fallen by 1,860 full-time equivalent posts, a drop of 0.6%.
The annual picture is better for public health nursing and midwifery. Compared to June 2011, the number of midwives is up by 438, while the number of health visitors has increased by 298. There are also 22 more school nurses than the previous year.
The figures also appear to demonstrate the impact of the change in government. Since the coalition government came to power in April 2010 the total number of full-time equivalent qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff has fallen by 4,527.
Overall 8,457 fewer people are working in the NHS than there was a year ago, with the number of doctors, excluding locums, up 1,817, or 1.9%.
The number of senior managers in the NHS has dropped by 505 FTE posts, a fall of 4.5% while the number of less-senior managers has reduced by 928 FTE posts, or 3.6%.
Against the national backdrop of falling NHS nursing posts, Nursing Times this week identified a number of trusts that have been forced to announce plans to recruit more nurses in order to ensure the safety of patients is maintained.
Commenting on the information centre’s figures, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter, said removing thousands of nurses over the past two years would “profoundly affect” patient care.
He said: “One nurse being taken off a ward or out of a community nursing team can make a huge difference to the time the rest of the team can spend with patients. A reduction on this scale, happening over a short period of time, is something that the NHS as a whole will struggle to adapt to.”
He added: “Rather than targeting the frontline, the NHS should organise itself to keep people well and out of hospital, and nurses have a crucial role in making this happen.”
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There are more midwives in the NHS and this is good news. However there are still not enough because the number of births is far outstripping the increase in midwives.
“The RCM believes that 5000 more midwives are needed now to ensure women across England receive safe, high quality care.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused the Prime Minister of breaking his pledge to protect the frontline. He said: “The government has taken the NHS to the brink with its toxic mix of budget cuts and destabilising reorganisation.
“What greater sign could there be of a government with its priorities wrong than one which gives tax breaks to millionaires and P45s to nurses?”
However, the Department of Health said the workforce figures only covered those staff recorded on the Electronic Staff Record and did not cover nurses employed by the private sector, local authorities and other bodies such as social enterprises, which are increasingly running services in the community sector.
Health minister Lord Howe said: “There are always fluctuations in the workforce, and the reality is there are almost a thousand more clinical staff working in the NHS than there were in May 2010, including nearly 3,500 more doctors, and over 900 extra midwives.
“And the number of staff delivering NHS services in the community is estimated to have risen by 25,000 in recent years, but not all these people are taken into account by the central official statistics. In contrast, the number of admin staff has fallen by over 18,000.”