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Wednesday, July 15, 1998 Published at 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK


Majority of nurses are middle-aged

The majority of nurses are now in their 30s and 40s

Far from being young, female and single, the majority of nurses are now in their 30s and 40s and 10% are men, according to new research.

'Nurses work: an analysis of the UK nursing labour market' says that the nursing workforce is rapidly ageing and that within two years more than half of all nurses could be over 40.

Its authors, James Buchan from Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, and Ian Seccombe and Gabrielle Smith from the Institute for Employment Studies, urge the government to take urgent steps to increase the number of people coming into the profession as well as keeping those who are already in it.

They want a national forum to assess the demand for nurses and how current and future shortages can be dealt with.

"That such a forum exists to assist with the planning of the medical workforce, but has not been established for the nurse labour market is indefensible," they argue.

Nursing leaders say pay is a crucial issue and they are worried by Chancellor Gordon Brown's announcement on Tuesday that pay review bodies for the public sector will in the future have to take into account whether proposed pay rises are affordable and in keeping with the government's inflation policy and whether they meet efficiency targets.

Falling numbers

The number of student nurses almost halved between 1988 and 1995. Between 1994/95 there were only 13,500 student nurses, compared with over 22,000 in 1987-88.

[ image: Christine Hancock: lack of investment in planning the nursing workforce]
Christine Hancock: lack of investment in planning the nursing workforce
Although the numbers have been rising in recent years, Buchan, Seccombe and Smith say there are concens that many are not completing their training.

In Scotland, the only country for which there are figures, it is estimated that one in five student nurses are failing to complete their three-year courses.

'Nurses work' says the number of trained nurses coming into the profession will have to rise by 31,000 by the year 2011 if present trends in the age profile of nurses and drop-out rates continue.

Lack of investment

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, says in a foreword to the book: "As we celebrate 50 years of NHS nursing and the huge contribution that nurses have made, we also mark a 50-year history characterised by a lack of investment in planning the nursing workforce."

The book calls on the government to look at ways of keeping qualified nurses in the profession, for example, by promoting family-friendly employment policies.

But it warns that the govenment may overestimate the numbers whom it can draw back into nursing.

"Lessons have not been learned, mistakes have been repeated and the cycle has continued," it says.

The book's publication comes just as the government announced it would invest £21bn in health over the next three years.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson is to announce how the £21bn will be divided up on Thursday afternoon. Nursing leaders are anxious to see if there will be any extra cash for new ways of retaining old staff and encouraging new nurses into the profession.

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