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The number of full-time equivalent nurses working in the NHS in England has increased by more than 12,000 over the past year, according to new figures.
However, it was also revealed that the number of health visitors during the same time period had fallen by 760.
The government has highlighted the figures, from the NHS Workforce Statistics for March 2020, as evidence of its progress in its pledge to increase the number of nurses in the NHS by tens of thousands by the end of this parliament.
The data showed a 12,131 rise in nurses between March 2019 to March 2020, from 282,422 to 294,553.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the numbers did not include former nurses who had returned to practice through the temporary Covid-19 register or students supporting the crisis response through paid placements.
While the government claimed that there were “over 22,000 more nurses, midwives and health visitors” in the NHS compared with 2010, when broken down, the number of health visitors has actually decreased by 1,135 since March 2010 and by 760 in the last year.
Health visiting numbers had been at 7,963 in March 2010, falling to 7,588 in 2019 and 6,828 in 2020.
However, the health visitor workforce picture is complicated by the fact that some staff are on NHS contracts, while others are employed in councils, after commissioning was moved to local government in 2015.
In response to the new figures, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s fantastic to see record numbers of NHS staff, including 6,000 more doctors and 12,000 more nurses compared to last year.”
He took the opportunity to highlight that “thanks to the hard work and dedication of our NHS staff, we are turning the tide on coronavirus” and said he remained “absolutely committed to growing the workforce”.
The health secretary added that the government would “continue to do everything we can to attract and retain our brilliant NHS staff as part of delivering 50,000 more nurses by end of the parliament”.
The government’s 50,000-nurse pledge caused controversary when it was first announced in the Conservative manifesto in the lead up to the general election in December.
The party faced a backlash for not making clear from the start that 18,500 of the 50,000 nurses were already qualified nurses who would be convinced to remain in the profession or return to practice.
The pledge also includes plans to recruit 12,500 international nurses, which may now prove more difficult in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.