NHS staffing levels

The NHS Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS) dataset gives the headcount and full-time equivalents of different staff groups, including nurses, scientists and support staff. The OECD Health Database offers the most comprehensive source of comparable statistics on health across OECD countries.

What are the long-term trends in NHS staff numbers?

Since 2010, increases have been seen in the number of midwives (up 10% from 234,000 to 257,000 in 2016), NHS Hospital & Community Health Service (HCHS) doctors (up 9% from 1.15 million to 1.26 million in 2016) and scientific, therapeutic and technical staff (up 7% from 1.45 million to 1.56 million in 2016). Between 2010 and 2014 the number of ambulance staff declined from 209,971 to 209,602, though this was followed by an increase to 225,600 as of 2016. The number of nurses and health visitors also decreased between 2010 and 2012 from 3.37 million to 3.28 million, but has since increased to 3.42 million in 2016.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of nurses, midwives and health visitors changed?

There is seasonal variation in the number of nurses, midwives and health visitors, with a trough roughly each August followed by a rise as newly qualified staff members join the workforce. A peak in numbers is then seen in the winter, followed by a decline as staff leave the workforce. There was a decrease in the average number of nurses, midwives and health visitors between 2009 and 2012, but since then numbers have increased, reaching 305,059 in September 2017.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of community nurses changed?

Despite the increase in the overall numbers of qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff, this has not been a pattern uniformly seen across all types of nurses. The number of community nurses (FTE) fell from 41,351 in September 2009 to 35,404 in September 2017, representing a decrease of over 14%.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of psychiatric nurses changed?

Between September 2009 and September 2017, there was a steady decline in the number of non-community psychiatric nurses (other psychiatry) from 25,341 to 18,719, representing a 26% decrease. The number of community psychiatric nurses has remained relatively steady, although there has been a gradual increase in numbers since April 2016, reaching 16,672 in September 2017.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of health visitors changed?

Health visitors support and educate families from pregnancy through to a child's fifth birthday. Common tasks include: offering parenting support and advice on family health; new birth visits (which include advice on feeding, weaning and dental health); physical and developmental checks; and providing families with specific support on subjects such as postnatal depression.

In October 2010, the Government made a commitment to increase the numbers of health visitors by 4,200 by 2015, but this target was missed. The number of health visitors (FTE) decreased from 8,100 in September 2009 to a low of 7,375 in August 2012 and increased to a peak of 10,309 in October 2015. Since then, the number of health visitors has decreased and as of September 2017 there were 8,497 health visitors.

Updated January 2018.

How does physician density per population compare internationally and how has it changed?

Physician density has increased since 1993 for all countries chosen for review from the OECD report. Sweden (with 4.2 physicians per 1,000 people in 2014) and Germany (with 4.1 physicians per 1,000 in 2015) consistently show the highest density of physicians. In 1993, the United Kingdom had the lowest physician density of the nine countries with 1.7 physicians per 1,000 people. By 2016 this had risen to 2.8 physicians per 1,000 people.

Updated January 2018.

How does nurse density per population compare internationally and how has it changed?

For the majority of countries reviewed there has been an increase in nurse density per 1,000 people. The United Kingdom is the only country where there was a decrease in nurse density over the time period reviewed, with a drop from 9.0 nurses per 1,000 people in 2000 to 7.9 nurses per 1,000 people in 2016. The United Kingdom was also below the OECD average in 2012 by 2.4 nurses per 1,000 people.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of ambulance staff changed over time?

The number of ambulance staff in England has been above 17,000 since October 2009 and numbers remained relatively steady until September 2015. Since then, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of ambulance staff to 20,258 as of September 2017.

Updated January 2018.

How has the number of managerial staff in the NHS changed over time?

Contrary to popular belief, over the last seven years there has been an overall reduction in the number of NHS managers (16% decrease) and senior managers (14% decrease) in England. In September 2009 there were 11,892 senior managers and 25,687 managers, which dropped to 10,282 senior managers and 21,673 managers in September 2017. However, numbers of managerial staff in the NHS have been increasing steadily since April 2013.

Updated January 2018.

About this data

The data relates to monthly HCHS workforce statistics for staff in NHS Trusts and CCGs in England on ESR (and the two non-ESR NHS Foundation Trusts for Staff in Post figures). ESR is a payroll and human resources system which, since April 2008, contains staff records for all NHS employed staff in England. The following NHS staff groups are not included on the ESR system:

- GPs, GP practice staff and other Primary Care providers e.g. dentists

- Two Foundation Trusts (Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)

- Those staff groups affected by Transforming Community Services (TCS) where the service is now provided by a non-NHS organisation.

Please see the NHS Workforce Statistics Bulletin for more information about the data.


Welsh politicians have agreed that safe staffing legislation for nurses could be “beneficial”, but have called for a series of changes to the draft law to avoid any “unintended consequences” that could occur if it were introduced.

Violleta (not verified)
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