Retired nurses asked to return to work as staffing deficit takes toll on health service

Lack: NHS nurses
Lack: NHS nurses
Getty Images

A campaign to persuade thousands of retired nurses back to work has been launched to help solve the growing staffing crisis in the NHS.

It is understood that letters to nurses will be sent out in the New Year offering them the opportunity to return to work. Others who have left to start families or change careers will also be targeted.

The project is being spearheaded by Health Education England, the organisation responsible for setting safe staffing levels, which has expressed serious concern about shortfalls in many parts of the country.

But a spokesman for patients’ lobby group Health Emergency warned: “Although any idea to help improve staffing levels is good, this plan is indicative of the mess this Government has made of our health service. The fact we are training fewer and fewer nurses is a disgrace. Where will we be in 20 years time?”

The Royal College of Nursing says there are currently 20,000 unfilled nursing posts, which means that one-fifth of hospital wards are operating with “unsafe” staffing levels.

New figures show there were 6,063 fewer trainees entering hospitals this year than in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government. Meanwhile one in four of nurses still working in the NHS is due to retire in the next five years.

It all comes as hospitals face an A&E winter crisis and as the nursing profession comes under renewed scrutiny following Robert Francis QC’s inquiry into the 
Mid-Staffordshire scandal.

A spokesman for HEE said: “Although our role is to secure the future supply of the workforce, and it is the statutory responsibility of employers to ensure they can meet the need, the on-going impact of Francis warrants concerted and special action.”

RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “This proposed national recruitment campaign is welcome news. Training new nurses is not an immediate solution as it takes years for them to become qualified. We need to look at how we support, value and retain the existing workforce.”

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