Revealed: 21 times ministers ignored nursing workforce warnings

Press Release 17/07/2021

The UK Government ignored a catalogue of warnings about the nursing workforce crisis since 2016 as Brexit dominated the public debate – including 10 in the last year, finds a new report from the Royal College of Nursing. The College is now stepping up demands to make the Health Secretary fully accountable for the planning and supply of the health and care workforce.

Health policy experts, parliamentary scrutineers and health watchdogs have repeatedly warned about the workforce crisis engulfing the health and care sector. The report lists warnings from public bodies including those from the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee.

A new Health and Social Care Bill is going through Parliament, but the RCN maintains it is not fit for purpose and needs key changes to enable the workforce crisis to be addressed. These include:

  • The publication every five, 10 and 20 years by the Government of the workforce needed to deliver health and social care services based on population need, that takes into account data from across the sector and is independently verified
  • Ensuring a senior nurse sits on the board of the new regional health and social care organisations (called Integrated Care Systems)
  • Ensuring that the commissioning of services is done in partnership with local communities
  • Ensuring that the voices of experts such as Royal Colleges are part of the regulation of the profession.

The RCN’s acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “While Westminster was consumed by Brexit after 2016, there were more than 20 missed warnings given to ministers about the state of health and care staffing.

“New legislation this year has to resolve this gross oversight compromising patient safety, once and for all.

“With ministers gambling on lifting COVID-19 restrictions and NHS waiting lists apparently set to soar to up to 13 million, the public cannot be put at risk a moment longer.

“We went into this pandemic with almost 50,000 nursing vacancies in the UK – and the true scale of the shortage is unknown. The Government has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fix this problem and help a severely depleted workforce. If it doesn’t take this opportunity, it won’t even have the capacity to deliver the law as it is currently set out.”

Three major health thinks tanks – the Health Foundation, the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust – have also released reports on key areas of action needed to tackle the health and care workforce shortages.


Notes to Editors 

For more information, contact the RCN press office at 020 7647 3633 or email 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world. The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies, and voluntary organisations. 

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