A recent report on the BBC highlighted how hospitals are having to recruit nurses from overseas, due to a lack of trained nurses in this country. The shortage is being caused not by a lack of people wanting to go into nursing as a profession, but rather by a lack of courses. According to Dr Peter Carter, Head of the Royal College of Nursing, last year saw a total of 57,000 people applying for just 20,000 nursing training posts, a situation he sees as lamentable:
“Isn’t that a matter of huge regret that you’ve got people in the four countries of the UK who want to train as nurses. They’re being turned away, while we’re going off and raiding the often impoverished workforce of other countries. It’s hugely regrettable and the UK is not exactly covering itself in glory in this.”
The issue is also expensive, with the average cost of recruiting a nurse from within the EU reckoned to be around £3,000. Dr Keith McNeil, chief executive of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, describes the problem as “distracting, frustrating and expensive” and has called for a more targeted approach:
“We don’t have enough home-grown nurses, but we know the demographics. The health service has to figure out what resources are needed for our activity. We need proper planning; I think the people at Health Education England are doing that now.”
The problem is a classic skills gap situation where the employers — in this case hospitals — are just not getting the correct supply of nurses coming through. Although they might be tempted to blame colleges and universities for not training up enough nurses, those institutions might well turn around and point the finger at the hospitals for failing to anticipate and communicate their needs more effectively.
Many would no doubt agree with Dr McNeil’s assessment that the problem is caused by a lack of good planning, but we need to go a little further in order to get to the real nub of the problem. Behind that lack of good planning is a basic failure to correctly anticipate demand, and behind this failure is a lack of understanding of what the demand actually is. This is where the power of data comes in.
We can begin to establish what the demand for nurses is likely to be over the next few years by looking at data for historic, current and future trends. The graph below shows the overall trends for the country (we are here looking just at the figures for England, rather than the UK as a whole), and we can see that the demand for nurses has grown fairly steadily over the past decade. We can also see that it is forecast to continue growing at roughly the same rate over the next seven years:
This information tells us the total number of nurses employed in each year up to 2014 (red line), and crucially in terms of understanding future demand, it also tells us the numbers expected to be employed over the next seven years (grey line). However, this is by no means the end of the story, and in addition to this expected growth we also need to take into account the natural turnover within the profession (i.e. people retiring or exiting the job for alternatives). According to our figures, when occupation growth is added to the natural replacement figures, we get a total demand for nurses in England of just under 120,000 between 2015 and 2019. In other words, over the next four years, England is likely to have need for an average of just under 30,000 new nurses entering the profession per year.
If we go back to the figure quoted by Dr. Peter Carter — that of there being just 20,000 nursing places per year — then we can see that there is likely to be a significant shortfall. What we can safely say is that unless steps are taken to address this (and it might already be too late for 2015-2019, since a nursing degree takes three years to complete), the costly and frustrating practice of recruiting nurses from overseas will have to continue.
There is another important aspect of the data that we should also be careful to note. Employment demand in any occupation is rarely, if ever, uniform across the country, and the demand for nurses is no exception. So in addition to looking at the general picture across the country, good planning needs to take into account the variations in demand in different areas, and for this we need to look at a more granular level of data. The following map shows expected growth over the next four years, at the county/unitary authority level:
As you can see, the demand for nurses is by no means uniform across England, with some areas — for instance Kent — actually forecast to see a decline in numbers. What this shows is that good planning needs to take into account not just the broad national picture, but also the significant variations between regions.
If we are to head off a crisis in nursing before the system reaches breaking point, we need a joined up approach to planning where both hospitals and educational institutions understand the demand for nurses and so can work together to ensure that the right number of qualified nurses are coming through. Data provides the key point of connection, as it unlocks the door to understanding what the “right numbers” are. Through the power of local economic intelligence, key stakeholders can be brought to a greater understanding of nursing demand in their area, so enabling them to work together to arrive at solutions that will meet those needs.
If you would like to discuss how our data can help your organisation better planning, contact Andy Durman (firstname.lastname@example.org)