13 Nov 2012

Nurse leaders say more than 30,000 NHS jobs at risk

The Royal College of Nursing says the NHS is “sleepwalking into a nursing crisis” as it predicts that more than 30,000 NHS jobs are at risk of being cut.

A nurse from Great Ormond Street hospital London (Reuters)

Since the coalition came to power in May 2010, the NHS workforce in England has decreased by 28,500 posts, and a further 32,700 jobs are at risk, the RCN said.

Between May 2010 and July 2012, the number of qualified nurses working for the health service reduced by more than 6,000.

“The RCN believes that the NHS is sleepwalking into a nursing crisis in England that is drawing closer as the size of the cuts increase,” a report for the organisation’s Frontline First campaign said.

“If the government continues on its current path it will find itself stranded in a perfect storm of an ageing population with increasing healthcare demands, but without the adequate nursing workforce to deal with it.”

While NHS trusts locally make the decisions about staffing levels, the RCN said there is a lack of national oversight about the reduction in staff numbers.


The government has accused the RCN of “scaremongering”.

Health minister Dan Poulter said: “This government fully supports the NHS and will put an extra £12.5bn into the health services by 2015. But at the same time, the health service is changing – average lengths of stay in hospitals are about one third shorter than they were 10 years ago, and there is more surgery where patients don’t have to stay overnight on a ward. The numbers of patients treated as day cases is 500,000 more than it was two years ago.

“The NHS workforce is changing to reflect this and the NHS workforce of tomorrow will be different to what it is today. But changes must be decided at a local level, based on evidence that they will improve patient care.”


The RCN is calling on ministers to prevent NHS trusts from “continuing with this damaging agenda of cuts” that “impact on patient care”.

“The cumulative effect of those local decisions means that we are heading towards a crisis as far as the supply of nursing is concerned which will have an impact on patient care,” said RCN’s head of policy Howard Catton.

“There has to be national oversight to make sure that we are getting the right numbers of healthcare professionals across the system.

“Getting the nursing numbers right is fundamental, it’s core.

“If attention isn’t paid to this warning from us we are very, very concerned about what the impact on care will be.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, added: “On a daily basis, nurses are telling us that they do not have enough staff to deliver good quality care.

“Demand for services is continuing to rise. However, staffing levels are being slashed.

“The £3bn that the Treasury has clawed back from the NHS in the last two years should be reinvested back into vital jobs and services, for example in community provision, that would ultimately improve patient care.”

The RCN added that the reduction in staff numbers has been magnified by the reduction of nursing places at universities in England.

Dr Carter said the nursing supply line is “being choked” after figures suggest that, over the past five years, the number of nurse education course places commissioned in England has fallen by 17 per cent.