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Five years after Mid Staffs nursing numbers continue to fall



Government plans to boost the number of trainee nurses in the wake of the Francis report are failing, warns the Royal College of Nursing.

Five years after the landmark Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry the government is failing to boost the number of doctor and nurses in practice and statistics show vacancies at an all-time high.

A further fall in would-be nurses starting training can be expected this September after new UCAS figures today, contained in a report by the RCN, reveal a second decline in applications.


Changes to the funding of nurse training – including the removal of the student bursary – were announced in 2015 as a way to increase nurse numbers. Last year, Ministers repeatedly announced extra nurse training places but they are not finding enough students to fill them, the analysis shows.

Seven hundred fewer students began training last year after the overhaul of nurse education. Today’s report shows the number of applications is continuing to fall this year and, without action to increase numbers, a fall in trainees is expected.

The Government must offer incentives to find tomorrow’s nurses, the RCN’s report says. It comes after a separate analysis found the current nursing workforce is shrinking and at least 40,000 vacancies in England’s NHS.

The current number of applications for the next academic year has fallen by a third (33 percent) since the same point in 2016 – 43,720 down to 29,390 and by 4,310 (13 percent) on last year alone.

In addition to the university student shortages, the new nursing apprenticeship attracted only 30 trainees against a Government ambition of 1,000 apprentices this year.

Five years after the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire blamed unsafe nurse levels for poor care, Janet Davies says the Government has ‘squandered’ the opportunity to address the issue. Similar care failings will become more likely as a consequence, the RCN Chief Executive warns.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:

“Nursing is a wonderful career but the Government must do more to make it attractive to the tens of thousands of new nurses we need. If Ministers fail, they are storing up unimaginable problems for the future. The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further.

“Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse. When it is haemorrhaging so many experienced people, this has never been more important.

“Five years after the warnings and lessons in the Mid Staffs report, the Government is still squandering the chance to address the issue – making care failings more likely, not less. The Government knows that when there aren’t enough nurses, patients can pay the very highest price.

“Nursing is now a graduate profession but it lacks a graduate salary that compensates for the fees paid. With fair pay and other incentives, Ministers must redouble efforts to get students into nursing courses this year.”

Ministers must encourage would-be nurse students to apply before the summer in order to boost the numbers joining England’s nursing workforce in 2021. The report, Left to chance, calls for an urgent national campaign organised by the Department of Health and Social Care and Health Education England.

The decision to leave the European Union is added incentive for Britain to train its own nurses and rely less on expensive and challenging international recruitment. The report also sets the current falls against the widely expected increases in demand from an ageing population.


Nursing vacancies hit record high leaving patient care at risk

It can be “dangerous” when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care.



Patient Falls Risk with IV

There are now a record 43,671 empty nursing posts in the NHS in England alone.

NHS figures show that there are now a record 43,671 empty nursing posts in the NHS in England alone, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The College says a global shortage of nurses alongside the removal of the nursing bursary has compounded this figure which now sees 12% of posts through the NHS in England without a full-time Registered Nurse.


Figures from the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) show a 29% overall decline in applications to undergraduate courses since 2015, when the bursary was cut by the Government.

In a report released today titled ‘Standing up for patient and public safety’, the Royal College of Nursing outlines the evidence of the need for a new law that allocates specific legal responsibilities for workforce planning and supply.

A new law is needed.

The report states that in order to address the record number of vacancies, and the gap between the numbers of health and care staff needed to deliver patient care vs. how many are in the system.

Figures included in the report reveal that the number of nursing staff has consistently failed to keep up with the dramatic rise in demand for services and the number of emergency admissions.

The report finally makes a further call for legal clarity on the roles, responsibilities, as well as accountabilities, for workforce planning and supply.

In September, after pressure from RCN members, NHS England and NHS Improvement asked the Government for clarity over who is accountable for the nursing workforce.

‘Nurses are working harder than ever’.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Nurses are working harder than ever to deliver safe patient care but are being held back by a system that is legally lacking teeth. Despite the public, patients and nurses all agreeing that clarity is needed on responsibilities for delivering enough nurses, we have yet to see any government pledge anything of the like, and as a result are staring down the barrel at a record 43k empty nursing posts.

“We know how dangerous it can be when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care, but at present, almost all accountability rests with the frontline nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system they work in.

“We believe the time has come for change and that patient care was future-proofed by law, and that from the government down, decision makers are held to account.

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NHS calls for clarity on who is accountable for the nursing workforce

Figures suggest there are around 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies throughout the NHS in England.



Working nurses in the CCU

Healthcare leaders are calling for legislation to be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have called on the Government to clarify who is accountable for the nursing workforce and the chronic problems it’s currently facing.

Following ongoing pressure from nursing unions, the two organisations met today and recommend that the government should “revisit with partners whether national responsibilities and duties in relation to workforce functions are sufficiently clear.”


With around 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS in England and thousands more throughout social care, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) believes the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be legally accountable for the workforce.

Along with other health care leaders, Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN, written to the Government calling for the legislation proposed by NHS England and NHS Improvement to be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.

Staff shortages have reached ‘alarming levels’.

Responding to the news, Dame Donna Kinnair said: “We are pleased that NHS England and NHS Improvement has recognised the concerns of RCN members and the public and has stated that the issue of accountability for workforce planning and supply remains an area that needs be resolved.”

“In the week after we have launched a major public facing campaign calling for investment in the nursing workforce as well as for accountability to be clarified in the law, yet again, the case is made for this to be taken seriously.

“We are clear that government is well placed to determine how accountability can be clarified in law.

Adding; “Staff shortages have reached alarming levels with at least 40,000 vacant registered nurse posts in the NHS in England alone with thousands more vacancies in public health and social care.

“We now hope government will listen to this message, as well as the voices of the thousands of members that responded to the NHS England engagement process, and bring forward this legislation, taking the opportunity to include accountability in government and throughout the health and care system, for workforce planning and supply.”

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