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NHS changes may mean fall in number of qualified nurses: will this lead to a rise in medical negligence?

The number of NHS nurses could crash by up to 100,000 over the next decade due to a combination of spiralling cuts to posts, falling student places and retirement, academics have warned, as reported by the Nursing Times.

Research commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing reveals that even if current trends remain steady, the NHS nursing workforce in England stands to shrink by nearly 43,000 over the next 10 years.

The research forecasts what will happen to the current NHS workforce of 352,000 qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors based on a number of different scenarios.

In the worst case scenario, a quarter of the nursing workforce is lost, leaving just 253,000 staff in post by 2021-22. The researchers warn that their projections “highlight the vulnerability” of the NHS nursing workforce to policy changes. If these reforms result in a short-term rise in the numbers taking retirement then the NHS could face a rapidly diminishing nursing workforce and staffing shortages.

Lead author James Buchan, professor of health sciences at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, said: “The scenarios we have set out are all possible futures – where we are in 10 years will depend on decisions made now by policy makers about numbers of new nurses to train and retention policies.”

Professor Buchan warned that the service might attempt to remedy any significant drop in registered nurse numbers by employing more lower band staff or looking overseas.

He said: “We have over-relied on massive scale international recruitment in the past as a quick fix, and this could very well happen again – but there will also be cost containment pressure to shift skills mix by making more use of assistant practitioners and healthcare assistants.”

The bleak forecast follows warnings from the Department of Health about “worrying signs” in the way some trusts were planning to make savings through its quality, innovation, productivity and prevention (QIPP) programme.

Suzanne is a Partner and is head of the clinical negligence department.

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