Health service output has increased faster than nurse numbers this decade

30 April 2019

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Key points

  • Output in hospital and community health services in England has gone up by almost a quarter (23%) between 2010/11 and 2016/17. This is around 3.5% a year on average.
  • In the same time period, the number of full-time equivalent nurses has gone up by 1%. This is around 0.2% a year on average.
  • This divergence between growth in staff numbers and the amount being done in the health service means increased workload and pressure on staff
Output has increased faster than nurse numbers this decade

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) measures output growth and input growth in hospital and community health services in order to calculate productivity (the ratio of the two). Output growth is the growth in activity (inpatient, outpatient and day-case procedures as well as other hospital activity), which is then adjusted to account for the fact that some types of activity are more expensive than others, and also to adjust for quality. And so it gives an indication of the amount being ‘done’ in hospitals and community health settings.

By this measure, output has increased by 23% since 2010/11, around 3.5% a year on average. By contrast, the number of full-time equivalent nurses working in hospital and community health services has increased by 1% since 2010/11. This is an increase of around 2,800 FTE nurses between 2010/11 and 2016/17. While it is possible for productivity improvements to mean that more outputs can be done ‘per input’, a divergence of this size between staff numbers and output in the health service means increased workload and pressure on staff, as set out in our recent report Closing the Gap.

Further reading

Research report

Closing the gap

Staffing is the make-or-break issue for the NHS in England. This report sets out a series of policy actions that should be at...

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