Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Data Briefing

Nursing workforce crisis in numbers

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 05 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6664
  1. John Appleby, director of research and chief economist
  1. Nuffield Trust, London, UK
  1. john.appleby{at}

Can the NHS balance flexibility with demand, asks John Appleby

The NHS in England is facing a crisis in nursing workforce numbers.1 The problem is not only a current shortage arising from many unfilled vacancies but also, given current trends, a forecast of a growing gap between labour supply and the demands on the NHS.

Across the NHS, over the past decade, the nursing workforce has increased by 4% (from 278 470 to 289 851) (fig 1),2 in part through greater numbers of foreign nurses (fig 2).3

Fig 1

Changes in nurse numbers in England by specialty

Fig 2

Foreign born nurses working in 27 OECD countries, 2000-01 and 2015-16

Nurses account for over a quarter of the NHS workforce in England (fig 3). However, over the past decade some specialties have lost numbers—mental health, community health, and learning disabilities, for example (fig 1). The general population has risen by about 7% in the same period,4 and …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription