Nursing numbers boosted by ‘Nightingale effect’

The NHS Nightingale Hospital in the North East - the pandemic has inspired many to join the nursing profession
JordanCrosby /

More than 11,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors have joined the NHS having been inspired by the service’s handling of the pandemic.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, called the increased staff numbers a “Nightingale effect”, referring to the giant temporary hospitals constructed when coronavirus case numbers were at their height in Spring 2020. 

Overall, staff numbers were up by 3.5% in the year to January 2021. In that month, 330,631 nurses were employed in NHS hospitals and other organisations, and 151,123 healthcare support workers (up by 5,195).

The number of applications to study nursing also jumped by almost a third, according to the university admissions service Ucas.

Stevens said: “Nurses, healthcare support workers and assistants have been at the forefront of the NHS’s extraordinary response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Their skill, professionalism and tireless work has made sure that the NHS treated all those Covid patients who could benefit and millions with other conditions.

He added that nursing as a profession was “not always easy” but could be “one of the most rewarding careers you can have”. 

“It is no surprise that given the profession’s high profile over the last year many more people have been inspired to join the NHS’s ranks by the so-called Nightingale effect,” he said. 

The Royal College of Nursing claimed that the number of vacancies reported by the NHS had not changed substantially, suggesting the jump in numbers may include those on short-term or temporary contracts. 

Acting RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said that the government would not manage to boost nursing numbers “if it can’t stop people leaving”. A poll of healthcare workers earlier this year by the Times found that 9% were considering leaving the profession after the pandemic. 

A poll by RCN to mark Nurses’ Day (12 May 2021) found that the pandemic had changed the way the public viewed nursing staff, however. More than half said media coverage of the pandemic had helped them better understand nurses’ skills, while 71% said nurses deserve more recognition. 

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