Labour has slammed the government as a “devastating report” into the NHS workforce has revealed that over a third of nurses are considering leaving the health service within the next year.
Reacting to the publication of research by the public accounts committee today, the party criticised the Tory administration for a “lack of long-term thinking and strategy at the heart of the government’s approach” to health workers.
The report from the parliamentary committee has highlighted that although the government committed at the last election to providing 50,000 more nurses by 2025, there are currently 40,000 unfilled nursing post vacancies.
Commenting on the analysis today, shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “It confirms what Labour have been saying for a long time, that the removal of the nurse bursary has been a disaster.
“Nurses are the heart and soul of the NHS and it is absolutely damning that the government have little idea of what the future demand will be for nurses, let alone how they will meet it.”
The committee report emphasised a worsening problem with retaining staff as a survey by the Royal College of Nursing indicated that 36% of NHS nurses were considering leaving, compared to 28% before the pandemic.
Many NHS trusts have relied on a substantial short-term increase in the number of nurses that they can recruit from abroad, but their ability to attract international staff is being heavily impeded by the government’s Covid travel restrictions.
The committee accused the government of not understanding the nursing needs of the NHS, as the Department for Health and Social Care officials were unable to record what type of nurses were needed or what regions were most understaffed.
Chair of the public accounts committee Labour MP Meg Hillier said: “The picture from the frontline of nursing in the NHS and care homes is not good.
“I fear with the strain of a huge shortage of nurses and the worrying reports of low morale and huge numbers considering leaving in the next year, we are facing an emerging crisis in nursing.
“We fully recognise that the NHS is reeling under the strain of Covid-19, with staff unsure how they will cope with the second wave that it seems clear is already upon us.
“But it must not take its eye off the ball and allow a slide back into short-term, crisis mode. It must press on with coherent plans to get the nursing workforce back to capacity, under the kind of working conditions that can encourage hard-won, hard-working nurses to stay in our NHS and care homes.”
Bursaries for student nurses were scrapped as part of the Conservatives’ austerity measures in 2017. Trade union UNISON’s Christine McAnea warned at the time that the move would leave the NHS “seriously short of nurses”.
Labour previously accused Boris Johnson of “deceit” over the nursing recruitment pledge after it was revealed that the 50,000 figure included the retention of 18,500 nurses already working in the health service.