NHS qualified nurse supply and demand - survey findings


15 / 5 / 2014 3pm

The NHS Employers organisation is working with a range of partners from across the health system, as part of a Health Education England (HEE) Steering Group, to look at how we can improve the recruitment and retention of the nursing workforce.

We work collaboratively with employers to help them get the right numbers of staff in place, with the right skills, to deliver high quality care.

We conducted a survey for HEE as part of the first phase of this work. The aim of the survey was to gather robust and timely intelligence from employers about the current nurse workforce demand and their views on supply issues. The survey asked employers for information about specific nursing supply challenges, their views on nursing workforce demand and the actions they are implementing to resolve any supply shortages they face.

The data collected has helped to inform and shape the co-ordinated recruitment and retention solutions being explored by the steering group.

Key points from the survey:

  • 90 surveyed organisations (83 per cent) reported that they are experiencing qualified nursing workforce supply shortages.
  • 42 surveyed organisations (39 per cent) are estimated to have between 1-50 FTE hard to fill nursing vacancies. 39 organisations (36 per cent) are estimated to have 50–100 FTE vacancies. Nine organisations (8 per cent) are estimated to have over 100 FTE nurse vacancies (figures ranging from 110–250 FTE).
  • The overall vacancy rate across organisations that provided their nurse staffing establishment data is calculated at 10 per cent (12566.35 FTE) i.e. posts not permanently occupied.
  • Reported hard to fill vacancies span a wide range of nursing areas (over 40). 
  • Skill shortages at a local or national level are the most reported reason for recruitment difficulties.
  • Local action to manage supply challenges has focused on skill mix reviews/service reconfiguration, local recruitment campaigns and use of agency/temporary staff.
  • 49 surveyed organisations (45 per cent) have actively recruited from outside of the UK in the last 12 months to fill nursing vacancies.
  • 96 per cent of reported overseas activity has been in EEA countries – the trend being to fill Band 5 experienced general nursing positions. 
  • 56 surveyed organisations (51 per cent) are considering actively recruiting qualified nursing staff from outside of the UK in the coming 12 months. 
  • 60 surveyed organisations are looking to increase qualified nurse numbers overall. Almost half of these organisations (28) reported that this is part of a skill mix review. 
Read the full survey findings

Managing the supply of nurses

With one and a half million staff working in the NHS, local employers are adept at dealing with the inevitable peaks and troughs in the supply of staff. The survey shows that local action taken by employers to ensure nursing workforce supply meets current and predicted future demand on services have been wide and varied.  

Focus has been on skill mix reviews, local recruitment campaigns and the use of agency/temporary staff. Other reported strategies in place include, active recruitment outside of the UK, planned overtime, return to practice schemes, expanding practice placement capacity, recruitment & retention premia, and up-skilling the support workforce.

Support for employers

We provide advice and guidance to employers on a range of strategies to improve the recruitment and retention of the workforce. 

Guidance is available to help employers with:

We are also working with employers to share intelligence and gain efficiencies in recruitment activity outside of the UK.  

Return to Practice campaign

The next phase of work being led by HEE will help encourage registered nurses back to work, the research has shown that employers often require more experienced or specialised nurses. There will also be a review of the content of the educational programmes to ensure they equip nurses with the skills required of modern nursing practice. 

Find out more on the Health Education England website

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