The NHS is launching an effort to recruit tens of thousands of nurses to help fill the record number of vacancies that low pay, Covid and heavy workloads have created across the service.
A multimedia blitz will try to raise nursing’s profile as a worthwhile career by featuring patients who benefited from nurses’ skills and dedication.
NHS England’s “We are the NHS” campaign will use radio, social media and cinema advertisements to portray nursing as a varied and fulfilling role that can change people’s lives.
It comes soon after NHS figures showed that the number of empty posts in nursing across hospitals, mental health, community care and other services had reached 46,828 – the largest number ever. That means that more than one in 10 nursing roles (11.8%) are unfilled across the service overall.
While the NHS is short of almost every type of staff, service chiefs say the acute lack of nurses is a key reason why so many patients are waiting so long for A&E, cancer treatment and other care.
“Nursing is a life-changing profession where no two days are ever the same and I would encourage anyone with a passion for making a difference to people’s lives to consider a career as a nurse,” said Ruth May, NHS England’s chief nurse.
Nurses make “an invaluable contribution to patients, the NHS and social care every day”, from undertaking diagnostic tests and delivering Covid and flu jabs, to helping patients get back on their feet after a spell in hospital, including surgery, she added.
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, welcomed the campaign highlighting of the nursing shortage. But, she added: “It is all futile until nursing staff are paid a fair salary. The only way to solve the workforce crisis and recruit and retain nursing staff is to pay them fairly.”
It is pressing ministers to award nurses a pay rise that is 5% above inflation, which would mean a 15.1% uplift.
The union said last week that members in its ballot about potential industrial action in the next few months were voting to strike. Voting closes on Wednesday. “There is anger and motivation like never before,” she added.
Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, welcomed the recruitment drive. But, he added: “Health leaders remain, though, profoundly concerned that the government has repeatedly failed to invest in the health and social care workforce.
“The pressures on social care are mounting, particularly as rates of pay fall further for social care staff behind the wider job market. The need for the next prime minister to act to expand the numbers of staff being trained to work in health and social care is now critical and long overdue.”
The Health Service Journal recently reported that a record number of NHS staff – almost 35,000 – voluntarily resigned from their posts between April and June this year, with “work-life balance” the most common reason for doing so.
Almost 40,000 nurses quit the NHS over the last year – again, the most ever – recent analysis by the Nuffield Trust found.
In 2019, the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, promised to boost the number of nurses in England by 50,000 by 2024. The Department of Health and Social Care claims that it is making good progress in honouring that commitment.