Workforce Planning Essential for Nurses

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 12, 2007 | Go to article overview

Workforce Planning Essential for Nurses


The RCN represents more than 22,600 members of the diverse nursing family. It is a family that continues to grow, and includes healthcare support workers, registered nurses as well as midwives and specialist community public health visitors.

In their many and varied roles, all are caring for patients in a wide and diverse range of settings. But Wales still needs more nurses.

There has indeed been a welcome growth in nurse staffing levels over recent years in Wales. Since 1999 numbers of NHS nurses have risen by 39.8%.

So why, you might ask, do we need more nurses? First let us examine this figure more closely.

There is a far lower rate of growth (19.8%) in the number of whole-time equivalent registered nurses and in fact there has been a 10.5% decline in the number of specialist community nurses.

There is also a shortage of specialist nurses such as those who work in school health, child and adolescent mental health nurses.

These shortages are especially difficult at a time when service provision is supposed to be moving into the community and away from the acute setting into the community.

So why do we have a shortage? One reason is that workforce planning for the NHS in Wales is poor and in need of a radical overhaul. The current system relies almost solely on information from NHS trusts as to how many nurses they employed last year and more importantly how many they think they can afford for next year.

This information is then compared to the amount of national funding available to train new nurses. The problem with this system is that there is no provision to estimate the numbers and types of nurses we might want - and more seriously there is no way of measuring how many nurses and what type we might actually need based on the health need of the community and an understanding of the difference between the needs of an urban or rural community.

The currently reported vacancy rate of nurses in the NHS in Wales is not a measurement of the number of nurses needed to fulfil the current workload.

We know that 47% of nurses in Wales believe there are insufficient staff on their ward to provide a good standard of care.

We also know that 39% of nurses in Wales work more than their contracted hours several times a week.

One other form of proxy measurement of staffing need is the amount spent on temporary staff, often referred to as bank and agency nursing. …

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