The Department of Health has claimed there are 6,000 more nurses working in the NHS this winter compared to last and 16,000 more than three years ago.
However, claims that it was better prepared to cope with winter pressures have been overshadowed by a row over nurse recruitment. The DoH has admitted that the extra 20,000 nurses promised in the NHS Plan by 2004 includes part time nurses.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was disappointed by the admission and argued that 110,000 new recruits were required to meet the 2004 target.
An independent report compiled for the RCN concluded that although more nurses were entering the profession, increasing numbers were leaving. It found that 12-14 per cent of nurses left the NHS or changed jobs each year. A further 1.5 per cent retired.
The report, Making Up the Difference, from Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, concluded: “If retirement and other losses stay at their current rates, the NHS will actually need to recruit in excess of 110,000 new nurses over this period to meet the 2004 target. Less than half of these will come from education. This leaves a shortfall of almost 57,000 to be met from ‘returners’ and overseas recruitment.”
It said the problem was made worse because of the small pool of former nurses who could be tempted back into the profession.
RCN general secretary Christine Hancock said government and employers had to convince nurses that they would see real improvements at work.
Meanwhile, the government announced more beds to cope with winter pressures, but health secretary Alan Milburn admitted that the NHS would come under stress this winter.
Announcing 445 more staffed critical care beds and 1,350 more general and acute hospital beds, Milburn said: “There will be cases where patients do not get the care that they should.
“While many more staff and beds will be available this winter than last, the capacity shortages the NHS faces cannot be solved overnight.”