The NHS workforce plan is an opportunity to tackle nursing shortages

30 May 19

Nurses love their jobs but employers need to stem their rising work pressures, stress and poor mental health, says NHS Employers’s Sue Covill. 

NHS nurses


Who doesn’t know a family member, friend or colleague who hasn’t been touched by the warmth, kindness and care shown by nurses across health and social care over the past seven decades?

Last year, nurses were identified as Britain’s most trusted profession – for the third year running.

However, very well-deserved public appreciation doesn’t fix staff shortages or challenging student nurse numbers. In England alone, there is a current shortfall of at least 40,000 registered nurse vacancies

It’s not surprising that many in the health service are anxious. Earlier this month, the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s annual registration figures showed 5,000 nurses and midwives from the EU leaving the nursing profession in the past two years. Many of these professionals identified Brexit as the trigger.

Thankfully, more nurses are registering. The number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates has risen by 8,000 over the past year, the NMC’s figures show.

However, despite numbers of nurses rising, attracting individuals to join the profession hasn’t been easy.

The 'We are the NHS' recruitment campaign run by NHS England has gone some way to highlighting the rewards of profession and sparked interest among communities.

'Despite the pressures faced by the service, NHS nurses remain overwhelmingly positive and committed to their jobs.'

Employers in the NHS are working hard too to hire more nurses locally in the UK. They’re doing this through use of new training routes, improved approaches to staff retention, a focus on health and wellbeing and engaging with staff about what matters to them. But none of this is a quick fix for the nursing shortage the NHS faces.

To make sure more nurses join, the NHS needs more government support.  The recent Migration Advisory Committee report on the shortage occupation list (SOL) recognised the changing nature of the labour market and its recommendation to expand the SOL to include more roles in health is welcome.  But future immigration policies need to make sure the UK remains a great place for overseas nurses to work.

The government needs to consider the essential value of health and social care staff to British society – rather than basing entry requirements on salary levels or qualifications alone.

Nurses are incredible at prevailing against the odds.

Despite the pressures faced by the service, NHS nurses remain overwhelmingly positive and committed to their jobs.

In the NHS Staff Survey this year – the UK’s largest staff survey – around six in ten nurses said they often or always looked forward to going to work. And almost eight in ten described themselves as enthusiastic about their jobs.

Simply put, nurses like their jobs more than most workers – and even more than most people working elsewhere in the health service.

But nurses are working under pressure and are often subject to stress and mental health issues are rising.

Work pressure, including stress and poor mental health, was the reason a third of nurses who left the register gave for leaving, according to the NMC.

Clearly, nurses need more support. Addressing these issues in NHS workplaces, including stress, is therefore essential.

NHS Employers has a range of evidence-based resources to support employers to support their staff – we are increasingly impressed with the range of different kinds of support available to staff – often developed in partnership with staff organisations and staff themselves.

The upcoming NHS ‘people plan’, commissioned by the secretary of state, is a real opportunity to strengthen our workforce supply and staff experience strategies in a way which is meaningful to those who offer care and compassion to us at times when we need it most.

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