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Concerns over ageing workforce increase as one in three nurses can retire within ten years

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

New research reveals the challenges facing the NHS nursing workforce, with one in three nurses due to retire in the next ten years and a lack of 'homegrown' nurses to fill the imminent gap.

The Institute for Employment Studies' (IES) report for the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) shows that in recent years the NHS has increasingly sourced nurses from EU countries including: Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

EU nurses account for 4.5 per cent of the total nursing workforce with a further eight per cent from outside the EU.

Dr Rachel Marangozov, lead author of the report, commented: “With one in three nurses due to retire in the next ten years, there is now an urgent question for the Government around who will replace them.

“With the uncertainty around Brexit, the recruitment pipeline from the EU is likely to be hit hard, and even the additional 15,000 visas for international nurses recommended by the MAC will not be sufficient to plug this gap in the workforce.

“The Government needs to act now to ensure the UK has a domestic supply of nurses to fill these future posts. This will require adequate and sustained investment in workforce planning.”

The IES report highlights the key role of international and EU nurses in easing the pressures on the nursing workforce, as together they make up around 12 per cent of nurses in the UK.

The MAC recently recommended that the Government grants up to 15,000 visas over the next three years to international nurses in order to ease the current shortage.

Yet, the new IES report recommends that the Government ensures the UK has a domestic supply of nurses that can meet the future healthcare demands placed on the NHS.

Researchers mapped NHS Trusts' recruitment of international nurses and found that reliance on this workforce is greatest in London and the South East.

They also found that the composition of the overseas nursing workforce has shifted dramatically in recent years; EU nurses are now increasingly prevalent, reflecting a change in recruitment practices due to tighter immigration rules, fewer employment opportunities across the Eurozone and health sector employers seeking to bring in more migrant nurses in general to alleviate shortages.

The report identifies three key causes of the current nursing shortage:

• The Government have not funded enough student nursing places (despite demand for these places far outstripping supply);

• The nursing workforce is ageing. The research reveals that there are not enough nurses entering the system to fill the gap or offset the loss of skills and experience that will take place when one third of nurses reach retirement age in the next ten years;

• Since the Francis Report, safe staffing levels and increasing healthcare demands on NHS services have pushed up the demand for nurses, while at the same time Trusts have faced greater financial difficulties that have made the recruitment of nurses more challenging.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We welcome the IES report which was written before the outcome of the EU referendum. There are significant concerns that the shortage of nurses in the UK will not be helped by the uncertainty felt by EU staff working in health and social care.

“We look forward to similar reports regarding other sectors who access the shortage occupation list, in advance of a new post-Brexit approach to skilled migrants entering the UK. It is clear that the ongoing shortage of nurses is not a short-term issue. The report identifies very clearly the complex factors which have led to the shortage of nursing, not least the need for more effective service planning to drive our workforce plans.”

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive, Janet Davies, believes the shortage is a ‘preventable crisis, caused by years of cuts to student nurse commissions and a lack of long-term workforce planning’. She added: “This report makes sobering reading. It is clear that without urgent action the UK is heading for a major nursing shortage.

“Staff from EU countries who work in the UK must be given reassurance over their future. This will make longer-term workforce planning easier, but more importantly it is the only fair and moral way to treat staff who are making a vital contribution to the UK’s health service.

“Failing to invest in long-term workforce planning in the past is costing the NHS dearly now, and these mistakes must not be repeated.”

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