Former nurses in England are to receive letters asking them to return to the profession as part of a scheme led by Health Education England (HEE), which is responsible for maintaining NHS staffing at the required levels.  The aim is to address a shortfall in recruitment for NHS nursing jobs that has left some hospitals seriously understaffed.

There are currently 20,000 unfilled nursing posts in England; however, only 17,546 people undertook training over the last year and the overall population of nurses is ageing, with one in four of those currently working due to retire within the next five years.

The situation is exacerbated by an anticipated increase in the demand for nurses as the general population ages and more people survive with chronic illnesses.  In order to tackle the problem, HEE hopes to persuade nurses who have retired or left to have families to return to the profession, with the variety of roles available improving the odds that they can now find roles suitable for their circumstances.

The Royal College of Nursing has welcomed the news but stressed that what is also needed is more focus on supporting, valuing and retaining existing staff.  An increase in staffing levels could help with this by reducing the workload on individual nurses.

The Boorman review (2009) showed that improved staff wellbeing has a positive effect on patient outcomes, which suggests that increased staff morale could relieve some of the pressure caused by understaffing even if nurse numbers do not increase significantly.