Decade decline in community, mental health and learning disability nurses ‘paints a bleak picture’

The number of learning disability nurses has fallen by a massive 39% since 2010.

James McKay
9 December 2020
nurse on hospital ward

Overall nursing numbers have gone up by 8% since 2010.

The number of mental health, community and learning disability nurses working in the NHS has declined rapidly over the past decade, according to a new report.


The independent health think tank, the Health Foundation, today published a report on the NHS workforce in England. 

It shows that while overall nursing numbers have gone up by 8% since 2010, the number of mental health nurses dropped by 8% in the 10 years to June 2020, health visitors dropped by 15%, there was a 12% drop in the number of community health nurses and a 39% fall in learning disability nurses.

Official figures show 38,872 FTE nursing vacancies in June 2020, with a quarter these being in mental health.

The report’s authors also say the government will need to exceed its pre-election promise of 50,000 new nurses in England by 2024/25 if it wants the NHS to fully recover from the pandemic.


The figure also reveal that the UK ranks below the average of high-income OECD countries in terms of the number of practising nurses and the annual number of new nurse graduates relative to its population.

A bleak picture.

Responding to the findings, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “This independent report paints a bleak picture, but it is one our nursing staff know all too well.

“There simply aren’t enough to care safely for patients in hospitals, clinics, their own homes or anywhere else. The heavy demand on NHS and care services, long before the pandemic, was outstripping modest increases in staff numbers in some parts.

“The dramatic falls in key areas highlighted here, such as mental health, show we are getting further from what is needed – not closer.


“The report highlights concerning figures on the ‘skill mix’ too. Nursing support staff are a fantastic part of the nursing team but boosting their number should not come at the expense of investing in the registered workforce.

“There is no quick solution to this crisis. It will take honesty and investment on the part of government – paying people fairly for their skill and expertise and supporting the next generation of nursing staff through their education.”

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