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New King’s Fund analysis has revealed that the number of nurses employed by the NHS has fallen for the first time since April 2013.
The data shows that there were 316,725 nurses in post in June 2017, which is 703 fewer than the same month last year - pointing towards a steep drop in EU nationals registering as nurses since the Brexit vote.
As well as European politics, the King’s Fund also pinpoints staff leaving as a result of ill-health and work-life balance as having increased over the last few years, highlighting the stress currently facing the profession.
The fall in nurse numbers raises questions about the NHS’s continuing ability to ensure patient safety and the ability of the NHS to cope with a challenging winter ahead.
Richard Murray, director of Policy at The King’s Fund, said: “There is good evidence that having enough nurses is essential for delivering safe care, and so it is worrying that the number of nurses and health visitors is going down at a time when services are already overstretched and the demand for care is rising. This means the NHS is less equipped to cope with the demands of a winter that was already threatening to stretch the NHS to the limit.
“While last week’s announcement of an increase in nursing training places is welcome, it will take years for this to translate into extra nurses on the wards. Workforce planning has been neglected for too long in the NHS, and the fact that the EU referendum result appears to have tipped the balance highlights how fragile the workforce situation has become. A new workforce strategy is desperately needed.”