Britain has more than enough nurses and midwives – despite claims of crippling shortages, claims one of the world’s biggest scientific studies.
Health leaders have repeatedly warned of the danger of dwindling numbers of nurses, with 42,000 posts currently vacant across the UK.
But researchers behind the Global Burden of Disease Study have now calculated there are 153 nurses per every 10,000 people in Britain.
The optimum level of nurses and midwives is considered to be 100 per every 10,000 people, according to the study published in prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.
And the scientists even say Britain’s amount may produce ‘diminishing returns’, meaning money spent on hiring extra staff could be wasted.
But the Royal College of Nursing hit back at the suggestion there are too many nurses, saying hospital patients die alone because wards are ‘brutally understaffed’.
The Global Burden of Disease Study suggests the UK has at least enough nurses and midwives to provide quality healthcare, with 153 per 10,000 people, and claims having more than 100 per 10,000 produces ‘diminishing returns’ in the accessibility and quality of care
The GBD study, conducted by thousands of researchers led by the University of Washington, examined healthcare staff levels in more than 140 countries.
And the scientists decided the optimum number of nurses and midwives for a nation is 100 per 10,000 people – in 2017 the UK had an estimated 153.
‘Additional increases in health worker density resulted in diminishing returns on the Healthcare Access and Quality Index,’ the study authors wrote.
The study’s findings are controversial because the struggling NHS – which experts warn is heading for another winter crisis – claims it has suffered a staff shortage for years.
And data released in July suggested the shortage of nurses and midwives may be getting worse as more job posts are going unfilled.
There were almost 11,500 nurse and midwife jobs advertised in March 2018, 37 per cent more than the 8,392 in February 2015.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing today told MailOnline: ‘The public would struggle to believe there are too many nurses when they heard this week that a leading cancer centre [The Cedar Centre in Ilford, London] faces closure because it can’t recruit enough of them.
‘Nurses even report that some patients die alone because wards are so brutally understaffed. The evidence shows that mortality rises when staffing levels fall too.
‘This study shows the UK lags behind other countries in terms of healthcare resourcing.
‘With 42,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, we are paying the highest price and must fill these gaps urgently.’
Last year, when the GBD data was collected, more NHS nurses and midwives quit their jobs than joined the workforce.
The number of staff quitting before reaching retirment age rose by more than 50 per cent between 2013 and 2017.
But the number of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK has risen by 4,000 in the past year, according to figures this week from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
At the end of September there were 693,618 nurses and midwives in the UK, with a rise being driven by more nurses training in Britain and outside the EU.
NHS England refused to comment on the figures in the study.
Britain has the seventh highest ratio of nurses to patients in the world, behind Norway in first place with 226 for every 10,000 people.
Norway is followed by the Netherlands, Bermuda, New Zealand, Germany and Canada, with Iceland, Switzerland and Sweden completing the top 10.
But the difference between rich and poor countries is stark – the Central African Republic has just three nurses to every 10,000 people.
While Ethiopoia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan all have just four nurses per 10,000.
The African nations of Guinea, Lesotho, Niger and Mali, alongside the Solomon Islands and Nicaragua, make up the remainder of the 10 worst in the world.
Nearly half of countries worldwide are suffering from staff shortages.
COUNTRIES WITH THE MOST NURSES AND MIDWIVES (per 10,000 people)
- Norway (226)
- The Netherlands (218)
- Bermuda (209)
- New Zealand (196)
- Germany (184)
- Canada (164)
- United Kingdom (153)
- Iceland (150)
- Switzerland (149)
- Sweden (147)
Source: The Global Burden of Disease Study
COUNTRIES WITH THE FEWEST NURSES AND MIDWIVES (per 10,000 people)
- Central African Republic (3)
- Ethiopia (4)
- Democratic Republic of Congo (4)
- Afghanistan (4)
- Guinea (5)
- Lesotho (5)
- Niger (6)
- Solomon Islands (6)
- Nicaragua (6)
- Mali (7)
Source: The Global Burden of Disease Study
Many have fewer than a third of the recommended number of doctors, nurses and midwives.
The UK has fewer than the optimum number of doctors – with 27 instead of the study’s recommended 30 – backing up similar claims of a shortage of GPs in the NHS.
Although the country has more pharmacists than the threshold set by the GBD researchers, with six per 10,000 people, a figure higher than the recommended five.
But the workforce in all those sectors is expected to grow over the next decade, the Nursing Times reports.
‘The balance of physicians, nurses, midwives and pharmacists in a country’s workforce underpins the types of care that are available to the population,’ said the study’s lead author, Professor Rafael Lozano, of the University of Washington.
‘While increasing the overall number of health workers will be important for many countries, it’s vital that this growth ensures a varied workforce composition,’ he said.
By 2030, the country is expected to up those numbers to 34 doctors (a 25 per cent increase), 168 nurses and midwives (nine per cent more) and eight pharmacists (18 per cent).
|Country||Nurses/midwives per 10,000 people (2017 estimates)||Country||Nurses/midwives per 10,000 people (2017 estimates)|
|Netherlands||218||Bosnia and Herzegovina||31|
|United Arab Emirates||118||El Salvador||24|
|Virgin Islands, US||114||Paraguay||24|
|United States||100||Sri Lanka||20|
|Italy||73||Sao Tome and Principe||15|
|Azerbaijan||69||Federated States of Micronesia||14|
|Antigua and Barbuda||69||Gabon||14|
|Northern Mariana Islands||55||Togo||11|
|Saint Lucia||54||The Gambia||10|
|Trinidad and Tobago||52||Pakistan||9|
|Dominican Republic||43||Papua New Guinea||7|
|Taiwan (Province of China)||42||Mali||7|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||40||Lesotho||5|
|Georgia||37||Democratic Republic of the Congo||4|
|Venezuela||36||Central African Republic||3|
|Belize||35||Source: Global Burden of Disease Study|