Managers' leaders have expressed alarm about two sets of figures showing that the NHS is facing a nursing recruitment crisis.
A report published yesterday shows that new admissions to the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting's register have fallen to an all-time low. It also says a record 27,000 registered nurses failed to renew their registrations in the year to 31 March 1998 and the number of nurses under 30 continued an eight-year decline.
The report follows figures published by the English National Board for Nursing and Midwifery last week, showing that the number of people wanting to enter the profession had declined by more than 8,000 in the past four years.
The 15 per cent drop was described as 'alarming' by the Royal College of Nursing.
Andrew Foster, head of the NHS Confederation's human resources committee, said: 'We too are alarmed. Our members know recruitment is one of their most pressing concerns.'
He said trusts were already taking action to attract new nurses and hold on to existing employees by establishing family-friendly policies, agreeing better pay packages and pursuing better human resources strategies.
But nursing unions claimed that health secretary Frank Dobson's pledge to provide 15,000 new nurses would fail unless pay is increased in line with similar graduate professions.
The figures prompted Mr Dobson to say 'we need to increase pay' although he also said this was a matter for the nurses' independent pay review body.
He said he hoped next year's award would not be staged but would not give a firm commitment to a full award.
Shadow health minister Alan Duncan said last week's ENB figures - covering three years and two months under the Conservatives and 10 months under Labour - showed that 'New Labour means no new nurses'.
The Annual Report of the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting. 0171-388 3131. 6.
The Statistical Analysis of the UKCC's Professional Register 1 April 1997 to 31 March 1998. 0171 637 7181. Free.
27,173 nurses failed to renew their registrations in the year to 31 March 1998.
For the first time, more than 50 per cent of those on the register are aged 40 or over.
Applications for registration from outside the European Union rose to 6,000, of which 4,300 were successful.
There are 32,803 practising midwives - the lowest number since records began.
There are only 88 male midwives, but the proportion of men in nursing has risen to 9.38 per cent, the highest ever.
127 cases were heard by the professional conduct committee. Eighty-four resulted in removal from the register, 18 resulted in a caution.