Rising pressure: The NHS workforce challenge

Workforce profile and trends of the NHS in England

October 2017

James Buchan
Ian Seccombe

Key points

  • Note: For our latest workforce analysis see A critical moment and Closing the gap.
  • The NHS workforce increased by 2% in the year to April 2017, but this masks critical variations – a rise in managers and consultants, but a drop in nurses (0.2% decrease in the year to April 2017) and GPs (0.7% decrease from December 2016 to end of June 2017).
  • Increasing admissions and decreasing nurse numbers risk overstretching nurses and undermining progress made in nurse numbers since the Francis report. Outside hospitals, there have been declines in community nurse and health visitor numbers.
  • The government has promised 21,000 new posts in mental health by 2020, but there are reservations about whether the target is achievable, or if it will provide staff with the right level of skills.
  • 1,220 fewer students had started undergraduate nursing degrees in England in 2017, based on data from the end of the university clearing round. While the number of 18- and 19-year-olds increased, there has been a big fall in the number of older students.
  • The government is aiming to recruit 2,000 GPs from overseas over the next 3 years, but just 38 were recruited in the first 6 months of 2017.

This report analyses the profile and trends of the NHS workforce. It also focuses on two pressure points: the impact of the removal of the NHS bursary on student nurse numbers, and staff retention.

It has found increasing cause for concern. The report highlights that national policy and planning for the NHS workforce in England is not fit for purpose. It shows high staff turnover and workforce instability, and a drop in the number of trainee nurses.

The report outlines the growing gap between the national rhetoric of short-term announcements and policies addressing the NHS workforce, and the reality of no overall strategy and falling staff numbers.

Latest analysis

Research report

A critical moment

Our third annual report analysing the staff profile and trends in the NHS workforce in England in 2018.

Research report

Closing the gap

Staffing is the make-or-break issue for the NHS in England. This report sets out a series of policy actions that should be at...

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