The nursing shortage
In June 2019, national leaders in the English NHS published an interim people plan. While it acknowledged that there were shortages across a range of staff groups, it said “the most urgent challenge” is the current shortage of nurses. “We must act now to support and retain our existing nurses, significantly increase the number of newly qualified nurses joining the NHS, bring in nurses from abroad and ensure we make the most of the nurses we already have,” the report authors concluded.
Current figures suggest there are more than 30,000 extra nurses are needed in England, with the scale of need only set to grow. It means that there are plenty of vacancies and also means that governments are working hard to encourage more people to enter, return to and remain in the profession.
The shortage is mirrored in other UK countries, and indeed worldwide. It has been estimated there will be a global shortage of nine million nurses by 2030.
Across the UK, there are efforts being made to encourage people onto nursing degree courses. This includes increasing the number of university places available to study nursing.
There are also efforts being made to develop a greater level of support for nursing students during their training. At the moment, many drop out part way through. So universities and organisations offering clinical placements are finding ways to help students through courses – including by increasing awareness about the financial support available.
Retaining existing nurses
In England, a nursing retention programme has been running since 2017. It is designed to help acute and community trusts reduce the number of nurses leaving by, for instance, ensuring newly-qualified staff are well supported, developing flexible working options, and ensuring there are opportunities for career development.
There are now plans to extend the retention programme into general practice nursing, and to provide additional support in areas such as high secure hospitals and emergency departments.
Similar measures are being taken in the other UK countries.
Encouraging nurses to return
Since 2014, Health Education England has run a return to practice course to encourage nurses who have let their registration lapse come back into the profession. HEE plays course and placement fees, and also offers £500 to cover childcare, travel and book costs.
There are universities across Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland that offer return to practice courses as well.
Some trusts offer the opportunity to work as a health care assistant while completing a return to practice course, leading to a nursing role once the programme is completed.
Encouraging international nurses
International nurses are crucial to the NHS, whether in mental health, community or hospital services.
Nursing remains on the shortage occupation list in the UK. This means it is recognised there are insufficient domestic workers in this field and that visa applicants who work in such roles are prioritised.