Is the UK Producing Enough Qualified Nurses?

If you have followed recent studies by the likes of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG, you will know the demand for nurses and other medical staff is rising sharply across the UK.

In fact, the latest REC/KPMG Report on Jobs showed that nursing stood alongside engineering and construction jobs at the top of the "staff league table" in February, as hospitals and healthcare facilities continued to up their search for qualified professionals. However, many public and private sector employers have found it difficult to fill these roles of late, which begs the question; is the UK producing enough skilled nurses to go around?

RCN voices concerns about skills shortages

You cannot underestimate the huge importance of qualified nurses. Britain has an ageing population and figures have shown that hospital admissions are rising dramatically - particularly in accident and emergency units - so the country urgently needs access to a pool of talented healthcare specialists. 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has raised concerns about apparent skills gaps opening up. It highlighted the situation in the north-west of England to demonstrate this point, as the NHS has seen significant cuts in the number of specialist and experienced nurses working in the area, especially community nurses and medical professionals who specialise in mental health. 

Its RCN Frontline First report, entitled 'More than just a number', that has confirmed a decline in seasoned ward sisters, community matrons and specialist nurses throughout the region. Band 7 and 8 nurses are the most senior members of staff and the report suggested there has been a noticeable drop in numbers since 2010.

There was a 9.3 per cent fall in the amount of Band 7 nurses working in the north-west between April 2010 and September 2013, while at the same time Band 8a nurse numbers tumbled by 7.9 per cent. The downturn in available 8b nurses was even more alarming, with numbers dropping by 28.9 per cent over the three-year period and the volume of 8c staff dipped by 10.6 per cent. 

Steve Flanagan, RCN North West regional director, explained that the NHS cannot afford to allow budget cuts to affect nursing standards, particularly at a time when the demand for staff is high. 

"It is a false economy to replace senior nurses with more junior staff. Yes, we need sufficient nurses across all grades, but we also need to keep those senior nurses with the right skills and experience," he commented. 

"This data shows that too many NHS trusts see removing or downgrading senior nurses as a quick way to save money, losing specialist knowledge and leadership skills. For example, a ward sister typically has many years of experience and technical skill, as well as being crucial in developing more junior nurses. These skills are not disposable - there is a considerable effect on patient care."

What does this mean for employers and jobseekers?

It is not just the north-west that has experienced problems of this nature in recent months. In March 2014, the Express & Star reported that bosses at Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital were looking to overcome skills gaps by bringing nurses over from Ireland. 

The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust would not rule out looking further afield in places like Greece, Italy and Cyprus when searching for new recruits.

This reaffirms the notion that Britain is not producing enough skilled nurses to meet demand. 

However, this clear disconnect between supply and demand obviously works in favour of fully qualified and experienced nurses who are seeking new opportunities. Competition for nursing roles is not as intense as it has been in the past and candidates who have a good CV should find it easier to secure a job. If you’re unsure whether your CV is up to scratch then check out our latest article on how to ensure your CV is taken seriously.

Even more jobs are expected to open up in the coming years, as more people require treatment and care. Official figures showed there were nearly 11,000 admissions for obesity issues alone in 2012-13, which further highlights the urgent need for medical professionals. 

Our website currently hosts over 100 job opportunities for nurses with a wide range of skill sets. For all the latest medical news and updates you can also check out our Search Medical page.

Have your say

What is your opinion on this new report? Do you perhaps have an opinion on what the solution might be? Have your say by either commenting below or tweet us your thoughts at @SearchRecruits and use the hashtag #searchblog.

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