The nursing workforce

January 26, 2018

The Commons Health Committee has published its report into the nursing workforce and says that, 'too little attention has been given to retaining nurses in the NHS, which has resulted in more nurses now leaving than joining the professional register.'

There are many causes for this shortfall, including workload pressures, poor access to continuing professional development (CPD), pay and a general sense of not feeling valued.

Main considerations

During its inquiry, the Committee heard a clear message that access to CPD plays an important role in retention. The report calls for Health Education England to reverse cuts to nurses’ CPD budgets. Funding allocated to trusts should be specifically ring-fenced for CPD for nurses, and specific funding should also be made available to support CPD for nurses working in the community.

Following a Question to the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House, the Committee recommend that further assurances be given to nurses who originate from other EU nations that they will be able to remain in the UK with their families after Brexit. The Committee also recommends that nursing remains on the Shortage Occupation List.

The Committee says that the Government needs to closely monitor the impact of the removal of nursing bursaries. The Committee is concerned about the emerging indicators of the impact of bursaries on mature students. Action should also be taken to address high attrition rates from degree courses and the level of variation.

The Committee welcomed the introduction of the new role of Nursing Associate and the expansion of career opportunities this brings for healthcare assistants. The Government needs to ensure that these new Nursing Associates have a clear professional identity, which the public understands and recognises.

Social care nurses

Care England has welcomed the Committee's report on the Nursing Workforce noting that whilst it may not be in the headlines, the report does touch on the extremely important issue of nursing in the social care sector.

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England said, 'The nursing workforce within social care settings is often overlooked by that of the NHS. A national workforce strategy needs to respond to the workforce pressures in social care as well as those within the NHS. There is evidence to show that the social care sector is facing significant challenges in retaining and recruiting registered nurses particularly as a consequence of competition with the NHS as the report acknowledges. This fall in numbers is also replicated in the number of nursing home beds since the start of austerity measures.'

The report notes 8,000 nurses have left social care since 2012-13 and CQC reports a fall of 4,000 registered nursing beds over the last two years despite rising levels of demand and complexity of need (including increasing levels of patients being delayed in hospital due to availability of nursing home beds).

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England continued, 'This market shift is being driven by rising costs not being compensated by fees being paid by local authorities and the NHS, and providers are being constrained in their flexibility to invest in nursing care services going forward.'

The report sets out a number of recommendations that cover nurses in all sectors, such as the need to ensure the language testing for overseas nurses is monitored carefully and regularly in order to ensure that it is not placing unnecessary barriers to UK practice. In addition, Care England has said that it cannot stress enough the importance of the report’s recommendation that the Government must ensure reliable data from all sectors is available to inform workforce planning.

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England continued, 'The English language tests are a vital safeguard but must be proportionately and realistically applied to ensure that good nurses from overseas can work in our sector. We hope the Government and others will see this as a priority for review going forward.'

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