May 16, 2012 • 1:05 pm

“The RCN [Royal College of Nursing] says that 61,000 NHS nursing jobs are at risk of being lost on top of the 26,000 that had gone in the two years to April this year — despite a government pledge to protect frontline services.”

The Times, 14 May, 2012

“26,000 nurses lost in two years: 61,000 more at risk”

The i, 14 May 2012

“An RCN study showed 26,000 health service posts had gone in the two years to April, with a further 61,000 at risk”

Metro, 15 May 2012

David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed at today’s Prime Minister’s Question on the topic of nursing numbers, with the Labour Leader claiming that there were fewer nurses under the Coalition, while the PM protested that “clinical staff” numbers are up.

This comes after the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley received a frosty reception at the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) annual conference earlier in the week over the same issue.

The Times, Metro and the i reported that 26,000 nursing jobs have been lost in the last two years and that 61,000 more were also in jeopardy – both citing the RCN as their source.

Analysis – what does the RCN actually say?

The figures from the RCN were taken from the ‘Frontline First: Congress 2012 Update’ and its associated report – part of the ‘Frontline First’ campaign which aims to highlight perceived cuts to the NHS services.

Reading the Times, Metro and i reports, readers may be led to conclude that 26,000 nurses have already been lost and 61,000 more are at risk – a total of up to 87,000 nursing jobs that could be lost by the end of this Parliament. However upon closer inspection this isn’t actually what the report says.

The report claims that “the total UK figure as of 2 May 2012 now stands at 61,113 posts at risk”, including posts already removed since April 2010 and those still earmarked to be lost by April 2015. So, rather than the 61,000 posts being “on top of” the 26,000 already lost – the 61,000 represents the total, not the addition.

Furthermore, the report itself does not identify the 61,113 posts as nurses, but as “NHS staff”, which could apply to any number of other clinical or non-clinical positions.

Similarly, the report points to 26,327 posts lost between 2010-2012 as general NHS posts, not nursing staff. Their chart below shows how the numbers add up:

So the Times, Metro and i not only wrongly present the numbers in the report as referring solely to nurses, but also double-count the number of posts that have already been lost.

Incidentally, on the Today programme Health Minister Simon Burns agreed that the 61,000 figure was a fair estimate, but argued that it included other staff such as ‘managers’.

But what does Andrew Lansley say?

The Metro reported that the Health Secretary was branded a ‘liar’ by some RCN delegates after:

“[Andrew Lansley] claimed there were now 3,000 more nurses and 4,000 extra doctors than in 2010.”

However the Press Association quoted the Health Secretary differently, claiming he said:

“The number of qualified nurses has gone down by nearly 3,000 in two years in England but those are decisions made by trust boards. They have actually increased the number of doctors by nearly 4,000.”

So which version is right? Statistics provided by the NHS Information Centre monthly report on NHS workforce figures for England provide us with the necessary answers.

The data records the workforce numbers using ‘headcount’ and ‘full-time equivalent’ (FTE) staff.

Looking at the figures for ‘qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff’ in the two years from January 2010 to January 2012, these staffing levels dropped by over 3,600 on headcount and nearly 2,800 on FTE. Since May 2010 (the General Election), the figures are similar.

However excluding midwives, health visitors and school nurses, staffing levels since January 2010 dropped by over 4,500 on headcount and 3,750 FTE, and again the picture isn’t much different if you measure staffing levels since May 2010.

The figures do confirm, whether using Headcount or FTE, that the number of doctors has risen by around 4,000 since January 2010 and by a similar amount since the election. By these statistics, the Press Association’s quote of Mr Lansley accurately reflects the figures.

So where do the RCN’s figures come from?

The first point to note is that the RCN’s study is nationwide while the NHS workforce figures used by Andrew Lansley are for England alone – this goes some way towards explaining why their nursing losses figures are slightly greater than the workforce statistics show.

Looking more closely at the RCN’s own figures, of the estimated 61,113 posts identified as at risk by the RCN, no fewer than 55,366 are within England – according to information taken from “over 250 acute, community, mental health and learning disability trusts”.

However, the source data was not provided within the report, and it is worth noting that the RCN’s estimate has changed considerably from year to year – in April 2010: 5,600 general NHS posts were identified by the RCN as earmarked to go. In November of that year, the figure became 26,841 and 2011 placed the estimate at 56,058.


Without more details from the RCN, we are unable to verify the basis for the staffing figures and predictions set out in the Frontline First report.

However it is clear from the figures that are provided that the Times, Metro and i inaccurately reported the RCN report – namely that the 61,000 figure represents the total posts either cut already or at risk – not additional losses on top of those of the last two years. In addition, those posts are not all nurses, but NHS staff in general. We will be asking these papers to correct this.

Andrew Lansley’s staffing claims for England are borne out by the NHS workforce statistics, however the Metro also inaccurately reported he was claiming 3,000 more nurses were in the NHS, whereas the figure shows around this many fewer

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