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Steps being taken to address the NHS nursing shortage

Throughout the UK, the health service is in the midst of a considerable staffing shortfall, with the issue most acute in nursing.

Indeed, 41% of current NHS vacancies in England relate to nurses, with in excess of 43,000 posts yet to be filled. Thus, the nursing profession is 12% below a full workforce.

Data from ISD Scotland reveals that 47% of staff leaving NHS Scotland in 2018-19 were in nursing and midwifery – a figure that has fluctuated only marginally over several years.

Elsewhere, the total vacancies for registered nurses in Northern Ireland is more than double that for any other staff group, while there has been a slight drop in the number of NHS nurses employed in Wales with 1,651 available posts, according to a report by the Royal College of Nursing..

Given this desperate situation, urgent action is required – something which is recognised by policy-makers.

In December’s Queen’s Speech, the Conservatives again pledged to deliver 50,000 more nurses over the parliament.

This figure was challenged during the general election campaign for consisting of 19,000 existing nurses who would be encouraged to stay.

Even so, this builds on a point made in the Interim NHS People Plan about retaining staff by, for example, expanding the direct support programme (whereby each NHS trust is given dedicated guidance on constructing its retention improvement plan).

Moreover, the Government has stated that the full People Plan (a publication date for which has not yet been released) will enable international nurses to settle and work in the UK, with a new visa providing fast-track entry.

However, there are fears that this could be offset by plans to increase and extend the NHS surcharge to EU nationals after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is using a campaign to encourage young people to consider working in healthcare,, after previously raising the nursing bursary for students.

With power-sharing restored in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein have signed up to an agreement that will see 900 more nursing and midwifery places for undergraduates across the next three years.

Similarly, the Welsh Government announced in November that an additional £16.4 million would be injected to create more places.

Included within the numbers for nursing workforce/vacancies are clinical nurse specialists (CNSs). Regrettably, a specific CNS breakdown is typically not available from official data sources across the four nations, except for Scotland – and even here, no data has been published since September 2018 (with most of the recent figures not being available).

In addition, The Brain Tumour Charity has funded several CNSs for low-grade brain tumour patients over the last three years, since the NHS has been unable to cover the cost.

We will continue to lobby key stakeholders to ensure that the next generation of CNSs are trained and vacancies filled, so that each patient, with a low or high-grade brain tumour, can access a CNS.