Editorials

Nursing shortages

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7024.134 (Published 20 January 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:134
  1. James Buchan
  1. Reader in management Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh EH12 8TS

    A reality, and likely to get worse without national and local intervention

    Nursing shortages are back in the headlines, and Britain's government ministers, briefly reassured that local pay had rid them of the troublesome profession, are back on the defensive. Concern about staffing shortages was last on the NHS agenda in the 1980s, with increasing demand for health care and reduced supply of recruits due to the “demographic timebomb”; but by the early 1990s, NHS reforms and general economic recession had reduced job mobility and vacancies, and concern over staff shortages largely disappeared. This year has seen its return to the front pages of the tabloids, if not to the top of the ministerial agenda. Is there any truth behind the “nursing shortage” headlines?

    Any analysis of nursing labour markets has to acknowledge three fundamental points. Firstly, nursing shortages are inextricably linked in the minds of the profession and of politicans with nurses' pay. The nursing unions are adept at playing the shortage care to argue for pay increases; the government and NHS Executive are equally keen to downplay any problems with the labour market to keep pressure off the pay bill. The history of pay determination for NHS nurses is littered with examples of official denial of staffing difficulties followed …

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