The party’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, warned that cuts to staffing training budgets and the loss of the student bursary under the Conservatives had created a nurse “retention crisis”.
“These shortages affect patient care every day”
Data analysed by Labour and verified by the House of Commons Library shows between June 2010 and June 2018 the NHS lost 200,586 nurses. Of those, 163,094 left for reasons other than retirement.
The government insisted there were 15,800 more nurses on the wards compared to 2010 – when the Conservatives came into power – and that actions were being taken to make the NHS a better place to work.
The Labour investigation also revealed that voluntary resignations among all NHS staff due to poor work-life balance have increased by 169%, from 6,699 in 2011-12 to 18,013 in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, the number of workers who quit for health reasons has doubled over the same period, from 2,126 to 4,234.
Mr Ashworth highlighted that the £84m committed to continuing professional development this financial year was a third less than in 2014-15.
In addition, the abolition of the bursary saw nurse applications drop by a third in the two years after March 2016, Mr Ashworth noted.
“Patient care is routinely compromised by chronic staff shortages”
He argued the government was failing in its duties to staff enshrined in the NHS Constitution to provide flexible working opportunities and safe and healthy working conditions free from abuse and discrimination.
The shadow health secretary described the loss of more than 200,000 nurses as “utterly staggering”.
“We are facing a retention crisis in our NHS and standards which staff should expect – enshrined in the NHS Constitution – have simply been abandoned,” said Mr Ashworth.
“After years of pay restraint, cuts to training budgets and growing pressures, it is no wonder the NHS is facing chronic shortages of 100,000 staff,” he said. “These shortages affect patient care every day as waiting lists grow and operations are cancelled.”
Under a Labour government, CPD budgets would be restored to 2013-14 levels; nurse bursaries would be re-introduced; and safe NHS staffing would be enshrined in law, according to Mr Ashworth.
He also promised work visas for anyone who was made a job offer in the NHS, no matter what level.
It comes ahead of the release of the NHS workforce implementation plan, which is set to lay out a staffing strategy for the next decade off the back of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Health and care services are losing thousands of experienced, dedicated nursing staff who feel as if no one is sufficiently listening to their concerns and patient care is routinely compromised by chronic staff shortages.”
Dame Donna reiterated the college’s call for safe staffing legislation and for at least £1bn to be invested into nursing higher education “to replace the existing flawed system”.
“We also need a sustained increase in funding for CPD which must be tailored to ensure nursing staff have the skills they need now and for the future,” she added.
Commenting on the research, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association, said better working environments were key to improving staff retention.
“The numbers of nurses who have left the profession is alarming,” he said. “As doctors well know, nurses are crucial to the effective delivery of patient care and we cannot afford to lose any more as this will only exacerbate pressures. This is unstainable and not conducive to good patient care.”
“We are improving staff retention by promoting flexibility, wellbeing and career development”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our long-term plan sets out how we will make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world and ensure it is a consistently great place to work for our dedicated staff.
“There are over 15,800 more nurses on our wards since 2010, with 52,000 more in training – and we are improving staff retention by promoting flexibility, wellbeing and career development and helping more nurses return to practice,” he added.
“As well as providing funding to increase university training places, we will set out a full workforce implementation plan later this year to ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future,” the spokesman said.