The Guardian has recently reported that there are almost 5,000 fewer nurses working for the NHS than there were in May 2010. New NHS workforce figures show that there are 276,608 qualified nurses working in the health service, 4,823 fewer than when the coalition government took over two years ago.
The figures may be reflective of the shift in the nursing profession from state employment to working for private companies and charities. It is becoming more common for nurses to move out of hospitals into the community, where staff work for private firms or the voluntary sector but are paid for by the NHS.
The Labour Party blames this drop in personnel on coalition cuts to frontline services. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, has said: “David Cameron has cut the NHS budget for two years running and we are now seeing the effects of this on the ground in the NHS.”
The approach has also been criticised by Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, who has argued that ‘cutting staff is a short-sighted and ultimately futile way of attempting to save money, as patients can end up waiting longer and being more seriously ill by the time they are treated’.
Ministers have defended their policies, arguing that while the number of nurses has decreased, the number of clinical staff in the NHS has risen by 2,400, including 3,700 more doctors. In spite of the cuts, they claim that there are two nurses to every NHS hospital bed, ensuring patients receive a high standard of treatment. They have also decreased NHS admin staff by over 17,500, creating savings that will be invested into frontline patient care.
Health Minister, Anne Milton, has confirmed that NHS funding will increase by £12.5 billion over the next three years and that a comprehensive and quality healthcare service will continue to be provided throughout Britain.
By Juliet Anderson