Thousands of new recruits join the health service as NHS marks International Nurses Day

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has today praised the ‘extraordinary’ response of nurses and healthcare workers to COVID as the so-called ‘Nightingale effect’ sees thousands of new NHS recruits mark their first International Nurses Day.

Sir Simon hailed the tireless work of nurses, healthcare support workers and assistants in caring for around 400,000 seriously ill COVID patients and millions more besides and delivering the NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history and one of the fastest in the world.

Volunteers who have supported NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic are among those who have decided to sign up, as the skills, dedication and professionalism of nurses and other NHS staff were put in the spotlight.

There were over 11,000 more nurses, midwives and health visitors working in the NHS in England in January than 12 months earlier, bringing the total to a record 330,000 as well as an additional 5,195 healthcare support workers and assistants.

There are also record numbers of student nurses entering the profession.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, 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.
“Nurses’ dedication has also played a vital part in the hugely successful rollout of the NHS vaccination progamme that has combined speed and precision in a way unrivalled around the world.

“Of course, nursing is not always easy but it is one of the most rewarding careers you can have so 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.

“On International Nurses Day I want to say thank you on behalf of the whole country, to them and to and all their colleagues who have played a part in the remarkable NHS response to COVID.”

New NHS data shows that 330,631 nurses were employed across NHS hospitals and organisations as of January 2021, an increase of 3.5% on a year earlier, while there were also 151,123 healthcare support workers, up 3.6% over the same period.

Meanwhile, applications to studying nursing at university were up 34% across England this year to an all-time high of 48,830.

NHS England chief nursing officer Ruth May said: “Nurses have played a leading role in the fight against COVID and we are delighted to continue welcoming thousands of new nurses from all walks of life into the NHS, where they will have the opportunity to make a real difference.

“I would encourage anyone looking for a varied and rewarding career to consider joining us in the health service where there is an array of opportunities for those with and without healthcare experience.”

Case studies

41-year old Enayath Kabir from Luton had been working as a security guard at one of Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust’s busiest COVID-19 vaccination centres. After talking to some of the nursing staff at the centre, he applied for a job as a Clinical Support Worker Apprentice and began his new career with East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust on 29 March 2021.

Enayath said: “The whole experience working at the vaccination centre has been so positive and got me thinking again about a dream I have harboured since I was a teenager, about becoming a nurse. So I approached two of Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust’s senior nurses in the immunisation team and they really encouraged me to apply to back in February.

“I can’t believe that on 29 March I started my new career as a Clinical Support Worker Apprentice. I will be able to train on-site and hopefully one day become a registered nurse. I am so grateful to the nurses who inspired and encouraged me to apply, and I can’t wait to start my new career in nursing!”

Matthew Whitehouse who joined The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust as a volunteer to support the Clinical Volunteers programme in March at the start of the pandemic is now ready to become a Bank Healthcare Support Worker.

Whitehouse said: “My mum and sister both work for the NHS and were both redeployed from their normal roles on to ward based roles during the pandemic so I got to know what the nurses were having to go through on a daily basis.  I saw how hard they worked and as well as wanting to follow in their footsteps I wanted to give something back to the community, even if that was just sitting with a patient that had no visitors and meant that it freed up time for the nurses.