A government-backed workforce agency has predicted the NHS is likely to have 47,500 fewer nurses than it needs by 2016.

The Centre for Workforce Intelligence looked at a range of projections and likely scenarios over the next three years, based on factors such as the number of nurses due to retire, the number of students being educated and expected demand for services.

Its report, published last week, warned: “Employers have a real challenge to plan and sustain the supply and demand of the future nursing workforce at a time of financial constraint.”

It concluded that the most likely scenario would see a 47,545 shortage of registered nurses by 2016, created by a 5 per cent drop in the supply of nurses and a 3 per cent increase in demand.

Although this was considered the most likely outcome, the centre noted a range of possible scenarios based on its predictions. These ranged from a nursing shortage of 0.6 per cent by 2016 to one of 11 per cent.

This 11 per cent worst case scenario would see a shortage of around 190,000 nurses.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing said: “We are going to have a nursing shortage; the question is what the scale of that shortage will be. There is now no excuse for inaction and people won’t be able to say we didn’t have the warning.

“The impact this will have on both current nurses and the quality of care and safety for patients is extremely worrying,” he said.

The CfWI report highlighted the financial pressure on the NHS as a key factor on its conclusions, with providers cited as saying “the decrease in demand for nurses is financially driven”.

However, the centre noted there should be smaller reductions in nurse posts than in the 1990s, when full time equivalent posts fell by 1 per cent a year for five years.


Projections of supply and demand of nurses 2010-2016 Source: CfWI
 2010 2016
Supply    572,034 541,762
Demand 572,034     589,307
Shortage 0 (0%)47,545 (8.31%)

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said the report should be used for a “mature and evidence based discussion” about the challenges and how to ensure safe patient care.

He added: “As the largest part of the NHS workforce it is right to look at nursing numbers but we must also take a multi-professional and multi-disciplinary approach if we are to find sustainable solutions.”

But a spokesman for Health Education England described as “early work from one source”, and that its investment decisions would be based on the forecasts of local education providers.

He added that HEE’s forthcoming national workforce guidance would be “designed to help ensure the NHS has the right people, with the right skills, values and behaviours, in the right place at the right time and in the right numbers”.

In a statement, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “The authors of these reports are clear that their projections are early work and more needs to be done to check their accuracy. But they do highlight that the NHS will come under increasing pressure from the demands of an ageing population.”

The news was more positive for midwifery, however. A separate report from the CfWI said there was an overall increase in NHS midwife headcount from 2009-11 of 4% and predicted there was likely to be a surplus of 3,425 midwives by 2016.

“However, our work indicates midwifery supply and demand is finely balanced, and slight changes to either supply or demand could tilt the balance between slight oversupply and undersupply in the period up to 2016,” it cautioned.


The report also reveals the latest data on the nursing workforce by region:

Nurses (headcount)  50,45951,259
HCAs (headcount) 18,9,35 16,466
Ratio of nurses to HCAs2.66   3.11


East of England20092011
Nurses (headcount)   29,989  29,907
HCAs (headcount)   17,182   14,451
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.75 2.07


East Midlands    20092011
Nurses (headcount)      25,813   25,362
HCAs (headcount)      15,287   13,083
Ratio of nurses to HCAs  1.69 1.94


North East  
Nurses (headcount)   20,818  20,430
HCAs (headcount)  12,094  10,902
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.72 1.87


North West20092011
Nurses (headcount) 52,091   50,577
HCAs (headcount)   29,70823,857
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.75  1.88


South Central20092011
Nurses (headcount)   22,217   21,519
HCAs (headcount)    12,085   10,411
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.84    2.07


South East Coast20092011
Nurses (headcount)22,086  22,371
HCAs (headcount)14,13210,653
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.56  2.10


South West20092011
Nurses (headcount) 32,867  31,502
HCAs (headcount) 19,884  15,889
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.65  1.98


West Midlands20092011
Nurses (headcount)35,294 35,258
HCAs (headcount)19,785  17,339
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.78   2.03


Yorks and Humber20092011
Nurses (headcount)35,515 34,795
HCAs (headcount)23,985    18,676
Ratio of nurses to HCAs1.48    1.86