A nursing recruitment drive to combat the falling numbers entering the profession has been launched by health secretary Frank Dobson.
Figures released last month revealed an alarming drop in numbers of people training to be nurses. Research by the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting showed that some 45,589 nurses were training in 1998, compared to 48,036 in 1997. Numbers were down 8,188 on 1994.
The health secretary promised an extra 15,000 trained nurses and 6,000 training places over the next three years in July’s comprehensive spending review.
Dobson admitted he was “concerned” about the disappointing statistics and acknowledged that pay was a crucial consideration.
“I do agree that we need to increase nurses’ pay and that will be a matter for the independent pay review body. I hope that, between us, we will be able to get a settlement that won’t need to be staged and which results in us being able to recruit and retain nurses,” said Dobson.
He warned he could not guarantee pay increases exceeding inflation, saying “consideration of the economy – and the Treasury’s inflation target – must be taken into account”.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing welcomed the Government’s decision to tackle the recruitment crisis, but said the situation was very worrying.
“Pay has become more important over the last number of years. Nursing salaries have slipped behind, but also have the other opportunities available to people with the same skills.
“The Government’s laudable aims to bring down waiting lists won’t happen at the moment because there are hospitals all around the country, they can’t recruit theatre nurses, they can’t recruit nurses to open more surgical beds, they can’t recruit district nurses to look after people at home,” said Hancock.
Despite fears that nurses are choosing to opt out of the NHS in favour of private sector wages, some providers believe other factors should be considered.
A spokesman for Nuffield Hospitals said that pay levels there were only marginally higher than in the public sector.
He added: “It seems as though where the local NHS has recruitment problems, this may equally be a problem for the independent hospitals in the area.”
However he suggested that the one to one nature of patient care within the private sector was viewed as more attractive by many nurses.