Financial cost of the nursing shortage laid bare

A new report by the Open University has revealed that NHS trusts were forced to spend £1.46 billion last year on temporary staffing to plug gaps in nursing rotas.

The Tackling the Nursing Shortage report says that this £1.46 billion cost, which is the equivalent to the salaries of 66,000 newly qualified registered nurses, caused trusts to have to pay for an additional 79 million hours of registered nurse time to plug the gap in 2017.

The report’s survey of 500 registered nurses and healthcare support workers found that 76 per cent of registered nurses expect the shortage to worsen in the next 12 months, while 61 per cent believe even more temporary staff will be needed. Worryingly, 34 per cent of registered nurses were found to be unhappy in their current role, with 35 per cent thinking of leaving their job if things do not improve.

Furthermore, the introduction of student loans for nursing degrees has seen the number of applications to study nursing at university fall by around a third since 2016, and overseas applications to the register have fallen 87 per cent in the last year as a result of the EU referendum.

The report claims that 63 per cent of registered nurses believe offering flexible distance learning would help to recruit nursing students from more remote areas and keep nurses in these areas after they qualify. Furthermore, 71 per cent believe apprenticeships could help to attract new student nurses to the profession and 60 per cent believe that it offers a good alternative after the removal of bursaries for trainee nurses.

The OU’s Professor Jan Draper said: “The sector is facing challenging times. Relying on temporary nurses to plug gaps is just sticking a plaster over the problem, and costs considerably more than if vacancies were filled permanently. We know that poor retention and low recruitment results in inefficiencies and ultimately puts patient care at risk. It’s vital that we look to a more strategic and sustainable approach.

“Taking advantage of recently introduced degree apprenticeships that offer flexible work-based learning is one solution, making use of funding already ring-fenced to pay for training while opening up new routes into the profession. Not only can this approach inspire and motivate the workforce, it can also increase future nursing supply and reduce retention issues in local communities, helping to reduce the strain on the sector.”

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