Number of nurses ‘falls year-on-year for first time’

13 Oct 17

The number of nurses and health visitors employed by the NHS has fallen for the first time on a year-on-year basis since April 2013, according to analysis by The King’s Fund.

Research from the health charity showed there were 316,725 nurses in post in June this year - 703 fewer than in June 2016.

The key factor in the fall, according to the analysis, has been a significant reduction in EU nurses joining the UK register since the EU referendum and changes to language testing requirements, together with an increasing number of EU staff leaving the NHS.

Earlier this year the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed that there had been a 96% decline in EU nurses registering with the council after the Brexit vote.

This research follows the Conservative party conference where health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to increase the number of nurse training places by 25%.

Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “There is good evidence that having enough nurses is essential for delivering safe care, and so it is worrying that the number of nurses is going down at a time when services are already overstretched and the demand for care is rising.

“This means the NHS is less equipped to cope with the demands of a winter that was already threatening to stretch the NHS to the limit.”

Murray warned Hunt’s extra training places would take years to translate into extra nurses on the wards.

The director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “This fall in the number of nurses is deeply worrying.

“It comes as demand for care continues to grow. Staff are overstretched and performance is slipping.”

She added: “It is becoming increasingly clear that concerns around Brexit are also adding to workforce pressures.”

The King’s Fund analysis said the nursing workingforce was in a fourth stage, having gone through three previous stages:


  • During the early 2000s, the number of nurses grew significantly as NHS spending increased;
  • From the beginning of the decade to March 2013, the numbers declined as the NHS entered a prolonged funding squeeze and implemented an efficiency drive;
  • From April 2013, the number of nurses increased again as hospitals recruited more staff and were effectively allowed to run financial deficits.

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