Protecting student nurses is crucial to saving the nursing workforce
The NHS Long Term Plan sets out an ambitious programme of NHS service-delivery expansion and change (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2019). It highlights the need to address workforce shortfalls and recognises the complexities of retention in the workforce, as well as student nurse attrition rates (Health Foundation, 2019).
Nurses are critical to the delivery of health and social care services, working across hospitals, community services, care homes and primary care. Nurses make up about a quarter of all NHS staff (National Audit Office (NAO), 2020) and registered nurses comprise the largest proportion of the professionally qualified workforce within the UK. In 2019, there were 706 252 people on the professional Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register (NMC, 2020).
However, despite overall increases in the number of registered nurses, there have often been substantial reductions for some types of nurse, such as learning disability nurses (NAO, 2020). Furthermore, activity in hospital and community health services has significantly outpaced the growth in nurse numbers (Health Foundation, 2019). The NHS has reported a nursing vacancy rate of 12% (NAO, 2020) and around 80% of vacancies are filled by temporary staff (NAO, 2020).
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