Is it me, or you Jeremy? Mental health nursing numbers in 2017

On 5th July, at Prime Ministers Questions, Theresa May (MP) answered a question from Jeremy Corbyn (MP); “Of course we now have more nurses in our hospitals than we had in 2010“.

First off, that statement is true. In May 2010 we had 280,950 nurses in England and in March 2017 (the most up to date stats we have from NHS Digital) we had 285,893. This is an increase of 4,943 or 1.6%.

But first…

Before heading off on the point of this blog however, I want to highlight that this isn’t as ‘good’ as it sounds as during a similar time, the population of England has increased by 2.6 million people, or 5%.

If you changed the governments reporting system so we looked at number of population per nurse, it’s increased (so got ‘worse’) by 3.2% (187 people per nurse in 2010 to 193 people in 2017).

What about mental health nurses?

George Coxon, the chair of Unite/Mental Health Nurses Association, and I, wrote to May to highlight that at the time of her making this statement the MHNA national committee was meeting in Salford with one of the agenda items, to discuss the cut in mental health nurses (MHNs).

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of MHNs has been cut by 4,942 (from 40,630 to 35,688) or 12.2%. Using the number of people per nurse reporting system I’ve used above, it means a change from 1,296 people/mental health nurse to 1,549 or a 19.5% increase.

I’ve produced a few iterations of a graph that shows the situation for MHNs and I updated it with these latest stats.

Alongside this data from NHS Digital, I’d had a conversation with Rachael Maskell (MP) to ask whether she could help to uncover some more detail. She submitted 4 questions to parliament which uncovered some more information regarding MHN education commissions. The answers from Philip Dunne (MP) shows that between 2009/10 and 2016/17 there has been an 11% cut in the number of MHN commissions (or 3,755 to 3,343).

Maskell also asked for the commissions for next year. You’ll see from the answer that the system is changing in 2017/18. There’s much to worry about in this new approach, and just a few news stories from this week highlight some of the possible impending problems ahead:

Another area that I wanted to investigate was the rate of graduation versus the number of students that took up the commission. Parliament wasn’t up for answering this one. They did point us towards HESA’s website. The page they pointed to, or any other I could find, didn’t seem to help. However Twitter came to my partial aid. When I asked for numbers of students enrolled and completed B760, they sent me the following:

This answer hasn’t helped fully as I’m guessing they’re not England specific and I don’t know the numbers who enrolled to result in the 2,890/595 qualifiers in 2015/16. I’ve asked but not reply so I’ll need to follow this up!

A reply from Jeremy

The next part to this story started with a tweet from Dr Rachel Clarke. She was asking Jeremy Hunt (MP) how much it would take before he acted on the dangers of NHS understaffing. He replied by arguing that he was acting because he was ‘dramatically increasing‘ the numbers of doctors that are being trained. He had his own graph (more of this later!):

I took the opportunity to ask for his thoughts on my (MHN) graph and unusually he replied to me:

I was intrigued by his response. I’d heard second hand before that he’d stated that MHN was the fastest growing nurse speciality, at this years CNO Summit. I hadn’t seen or heard it direct however. Now I had, I wanted to know more! I asked what his reference period was for this claim, but I must have used up my Twitter replies as I’ve not heard back.

Without a reply, I thought I’d do a bit more data crunching. I found out the following:

If you’re interested in the overall graph for the 6 groups between May 2010 and March 2017 here it is:

Jeremy, I’m not sure whether there is a reference period that does show MHNs being the ‘fastest growing’ but if there is I think you’ve got to be pretty selective to find it. I’m happy to be proven wrong however!

On the other point that Hunt raised, that ‘120,000 more people are treated every year’. I’m not surprised by this. Unite/MHNA asked its members last year about how things were going, and the results were pretty shocking, showing the effect that this increase in work, on top of the cuts that I have outlined above, has had on them.

What about the doctors?

Before hanging up my scientific calculator, I did a bit more number crunching as I was interested in Hunt’s point re. doctors. I found out that:

  • The ‘psychiatry’ doctor grouping showed an increase of 32 (8,699 to 8,732) or 0.4% between 2010 and 2017. Using a new people per psychiatry doctor stat this means a change of 6,052 people per psychiatry doctor to 6,329 people per psychiatry doctor (an ‘worsening’ of 4.6%).

  • There’s a real variety in the increase and decrease in the different doctor specialities, but when you take them as a whole, in 2010 there was 556 people per doctor vs. 519 people per doctor in 2017 (an improvement of 6.7%).

England population:


4 thoughts on “Is it me, or you Jeremy? Mental health nursing numbers in 2017”

  1. Hi Dave I enjoyed reading your blog and how it serves as a reality check on the soundbites Politicians use.
    The statistics behind statements when researched often paint a reality somewhat removed from the original ‘facts’.

  2. Thanks for this fascinating piece. It’s important to realise that the doctor stats exclude GPs. If they were included there’d be a smaller rise in doctors/head. That’s because there’s been a fall in numbers of GPs and in GPs/head. It would be interesting to rerun the calculation and include GPs.

    1. Thanks Marie-Louise for your feedback. There’s a few follow up bits that I’d like to look at in a bit more detail and I’ll certainly add your suggestion to the list. Hopefully I’ll get round to it!!

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