Is There A Shortage Of Nurses In The NHS?

26 November 2013

Is There A Shortage Of Nurses In The NHS?

In the wake of the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal and The Francis Report, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is attempting to restore belief in the NHS again. One of his means in meeting this objective is in encouraging hospitals to become more transparent about their staffing levels on wards.

Whilst this transparency is a welcome development, it highlights the endemic problem of under staffing currently affecting the NHS, which in return is stifling the attempts of hospitals across the country in continually ensuring high standards of patient care.

Hunt had previously admitted to the BBC “We are going to need more nurses." It seems the gravity of the situation is greater in scope than anybody first imagined. According to official data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there are just less than 307,000 midwives and nurses working in England in full-time equivalent posts.

Part of this figure is made up of school nurses, health visitors and midwives who are not employed by the NHS. Once they are taken out of the overall calculation, the actual number of nurses left working across the health service in both hospitals and community services is 275,000.

Both the organisation Unison and the National Nursing Institute have opined that the under staffing levels are ‘dangerous’ according to Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea. A recent National Nursing Institute study found that half of hospitals are regularly running wards with fewer than one nurse to every eight patients, which is below what is considered the minimum level ratio: one-to-eight.

Though the government has not yet decided the specific measures it will take to ensure safe staffing, it is aiming to bring down the resulting number of patient and healthcare incidents, complications and deaths which can result from the problem of working under staffing capacity.

There has been in the meantime an increased number of recruitment by hospitals of staff; a trend the government has called the “Francis effect”. It has predicted that by the end of this financial year the hospitals will be employing an extra 3,700 nurses.

Nonetheless concerns remain. One development might be the shifting of nurses from the community to hospitals by the NHS, which would not change the number of staff in actual terms. Another concern is that it would still result in a staff shortage. The Royal College of Nursing has opined that the NHS may be short by as many of 20,000 nurses with regard to appropriate staffing levels.

If it is the case that the above worries become fact, there is still the question of a skill shortage as well as a staff shortage. This would be because of a disparity between skill sets where some nurses can prescribe medication whilst others cannot; at the same time some nurses can monitor the vital signs of a patient whilst others do no nursing roles.

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