Just how desperate is the NHS nursing crisis?

3rd August 2018 / United Kingdom
Just how desperate is the NHS nursing crisis?

By TruePublica: Figures in 2016-17 revealed a 96% drop in the number of nurses from the EU registering to practice in the UK – but in reality, it just gets worse as each month goes by.

The figures were obtained by the Health Foundation from a Freedom of Information request to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). To give some sort of idea of the crisis over recent years, they show that after a sharp decline from a high of 1,304 in July 2016 to 344 two months later in September, numbers have continued to fall, with just 46 EU nurse registrants in April 2017.


  • In March 2017 there were 30,613 advertised vacancy full-time equivalents for NHS staff overall published in England, this compares to 26,424 in 2016 and 26,406 in 2015.
  • In quarter 1 2017 (January 2017 – 31 March 2017) there were 86,035 advertised vacancy full-time equivalents in England. Of these 81 per cent (69,849) were permanent and 19 per cent (16,186) were fixed-term.
  • The highest percentage of vacancies was seen in the ‘Nursing and Midwifery Registered’ Staff Group which accounted for 38 per cent of all jobs advertised.

Source: NHS Digital Statistics


Today in 2018, 90-95% of doctor and nurse vacancies are being filled by temporary staff.

It is reported by NHS Improvement (NHSI), which manages NHS trusts in England that over 97,000 vacancies now exist in the NHS and around 10,000 of these vacancies were for doctors, and 35,000 were for nurses. So the numbers do seem to stack up against other claims of vacancies. However, the nursing vacancies are worsening by around 300 – 400 a month throughout the last year as well as the dramatic fall the year before.

It should alos be noted that the NHS vacancy level is much higher than the UK average for all jobs. Full-Fact reports that from October to December 2017, there were 2.7 vacancies for every 100 filled employee jobs—the same level as for January to March 2018. In the NHSI data, there are around 9 vacancies for every 100 filled jobs.


Source: health.org.uk/news/data – nursing and midwifery council

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The UK has repeatedly used international recruitment as a stop-gap measure to fill staffing shortages, and since 2008 the majority of international nurses registering in the UK have come from within the EU.

Since the 2016 EU referendum, EU nursing staff have plummeted and as a result, official figures show more unfilled nurse and midwife posts than ever recorded. In July 2016, one month after Britain’s EU referendum result, over 1,300 nurses from the EU were registering. Just six months later that number fell to under 100 and has never recovered.

The Guardian reported in January this year, with some ironic glee that: “The NHS’s deepening shortage of nurses is worst in the part of England that contains Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency, with hospitals there only able to recruit one nurse for every 400 vacancies they have, new NHS figures reveal.”

The same report highlighted that in 2018 hospitals in the Thames Valley managed to fill just five of the 1,957 vacancies for nurses that they advertised between April and June – a success rate of 0.25% – according to the latest official NHS vacancy statistics.

NHS care providers in north-west London advertised on NHS Jobs to recruit 2,545 nurses and midwives in April, May and June but only managed to get 42 new faces – 1.65% of those they were seeking.


Janet Davies, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary said: “The next generation of British nurses has been deterred by the current whirlwind tearing through the NHS – record pressure, lack of funding and poor pay for staff. It has never been busier but is shedding experienced nurses quicker than it can find new ones. Earlier cuts to training places are exacerbating the problem just as long-serving staff feel demoralised and pushed to leave nursing.


Other recent evidence shows that the health service is now seeing more nurses leave than join for the first time in its history. The NHS’s statistical arm disclosed that one in 10 of all nurses now quits each year and that the number quitting today is nearly a quarter higher than it was in 2012.

The result of this starvation of resources? The NHS has just launched the biggest recruitment drive in its 70-year history costing £8 million with a view to recruiting 22,000 nursing staff.

There are currently 10,478 full-time posts available for doctors.




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