NHS crisis: 200,000 nurses have quit since Tories entered government

Labour analysis comes as shadow health secretary pledges to reinstate bursaries for nursing degrees and invest in staff training

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 26 March 2019 20:38
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Labour party NHS video blames austerity for 120,000 deaths

More than 200,000 nurses have quit the NHS since the Conservatives entered government, with three-quarters of these prior to retirement age, new analysis shows.

Across the NHS voluntary resignations have risen 55 per cent since 2011 and 163,094 nurses left the NHS early, figures compiled by the Labour party show.

Labour said the analysis, which has been verified by the impartial House of Commons Library, shows “staggering” numbers quitting because of Tory austerity policies and their failure to address soaring retirements.

Across all NHS, staff poor work-life balance was the most rapidly growing reason for leaving; just 6,669 resignations cited it as their primary reason in 2011/12 but this rose 169 per cent, to 18,013 by 2017/18.

Resignations for health reasons have doubled, accounting for 4,234 people quitting in 2017/18. In total, voluntary resignations for any reason have shot up from 74,287 in 2011/12 to 114,870 in 2017/18.

“It is utterly staggering that our NHS has lost over 200,000 nurses under the Tories and that voluntary resignations from the NHS is up 55 per cent,” Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is expected to say on Wednesday.

“We are facing a retention crisis in our NHS and standards which staff should expect – enshrined in the NHS Constitution – have simply been abandoned.”

The Labour figures show doctors have seen the largest proportion of staff leave, at 14.6 per cent in 2017/18, followed by nurses and health visitors (10.7 per cent) and midwives (10.6 per cent).

However the government stressed that there were more nurses on the wards today than when they entered power.

NHS staff pay increases have been capped at just 1 per cent for much of the past decade, meaning many have suffered a real terms pay cut.

This has contributed to some frontline staff quitting to work in self-employed “agency” roles for higher salaries and, in some cases, less responsibility. Along with cuts to training budgets, pension changes – which are driving out experienced doctors and managers – and record patient demand, the working environment has become more pressured than ever.

Last week, a report warned that the NHS is at crisis point and is unable to train enough GPs and nurses to meet demand.

The King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation said the government would miss its target to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020 and the only way to cope with the growing workload was to put more pharmacists and physiotherapists into GP practices.

While an “interim” workforce plan is expected next month, it will not set out how new staff roles will be funded until the autumn spending review. Meanwhile the NHS’s own long-term plan has made clear that, in the short term, it intends to fill thousands of nursing vacancies by raiding staff from overseas.

In a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Mr Ashworth will pledge that Labour government will invest in staff pay and training, reintroduce nurse bursaries and commit funding to health-related degrees.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) acting chief executive, Dame Donna Kinnair, said thousands of dedicated staff were being lost because chronic staff shortages mean the care they can offer is compromised.

“The RCN is calling for accountability for staffing of safe and effective care to be enshrined in law in England – at the highest levels – to ensure we have the right numbers of nurses in the right places across health and social care.”

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The RCN estimates “at least £1bn” will be needed to invest in new workforce programmes and to turn the tide of vacancies.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our long term plan sets out how we will make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world and ensure it is a consistently great place to work for our dedicated staff.

“There are over 15,800 more nurses on our wards since 2010, with 52,000 more in training – and we are improving staff retention by promoting flexibility, wellbeing and career development and helping more nurses return to practice.”

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