Which Nursing Specialisation is in Highest Demand?

Aug 15, 2023


There’s no hiding the reality of UK nursing today, that staff shortages are likely to stretch over several years, unless thousands of fully qualified and experienced RNs descend from another planet, ready to start work tomorrow!

Nursing shortages in the UK are the result of a complex set of economic and social factors, many of which have been in play for at least a decade. Many nursing professionals are quitting or retiring amid growing vacancies, while nursing degree applicant numbers are slowing.

In this context, it’s wise for hiring managers to understand the playing field and try to be as tactical as possible when recruiting. To start with, pinpointing how and where nursing shortages in the UK are playing out within certain specialisations can help inform your approach to recruitment.

Here we’ll highlight the nursing specialties in high demand in the UK and the factors that make certain roles harder to recruit for.

Social Care

Social care is a clear contender for a UK nursing specialisation in highest demand. According to Skills For Care research, there are a staggering 150,000 vacancies in social care, especially home care practitioners that include nursing assistants, home health aides and care home staff.

The ageing population and the impacts of a healthcare worker exodus from the UK are among the factors making social care one of the top nursing specialties in high demand.

In addition to ensuring that patients receive appropriate and timely care, social care nurses are vital for their work as care coordinators, as they collaborate with multidisciplinary teams to coordinate services, facilitate transitions between care settings, and promote continuity of care.

Paediatric Nursing

Paediatric nurses are currently among the highest nursing specialties in high demand and there aren’t enough of them available right now. Although workforce numbers are gradually increasing in this area, the pressures on children and young people’s services are currently ‘unprecedented’, with referral-to-treatment waiting times for children at the highest levels on record, a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report found.

The shortfall in school nurses is also significant, which the Institute of Public Policy Research estimates is as high as 11,500.

Caring for children with specific health conditions, such as congenital disorders, chronic illnesses, or complex medical needs is a specialised skillset, making paediatric nurses a valuable breed of practitioners who are increasingly sought after.


Call the midwife! If there were a contest for the nurse practitioner type needed most, the role of midwife would certainly have a place on the podium.

The pool of midwifery practitioners available to meet community needs for antenatal and postpartum care in the UK dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2022, according to a UK government analysis of the workforce. To add a bit of context, it’s worth noting the UK is not the only country with a shortfall in this area; as many as 900,000 midwives are needed globally, according to UN Population Fund research.

Midwifery is among the most respected and rewarding nursing professions. However, growing community demand for this type of care has reached new peaks, meaning that even the slightest decrease in midwife professionals is certain to place pressure on healthcare employers.

Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurses

The general population’s mental health care needs are growing, but the number of mental health nursing professionals falls short of available vacancies.

A survey by the NHS Confederation observed an 18% rise in vacancies for mental health nurses between 2018 and 2022, with mental health trusts accounting for nearly 30% of all nursing vacancies. Meanwhile, the total pool of mental health care nurses in the workforce reduced by 2% between 2010 and 2022, UK government statistics show.

One of the major factors driving shortages in mental health nurse shortages is demographics. More than half of mental health nurses are aged 45 and over and there is a higher proportion of nurses approaching retirement age in mental health compared to acute care, the NHS Confederation notes.

Learning Disability Nurses

For any organisation that needs nurses specialising in learning disabilities, recruitment is likely to be a challenge! The number of FTE nurses in this field declined by 40% between 2010 to 2022, NHS data reveals.

This statistic indicates the nurse practitioner type needed most is an RN professional with a tertiary qualification in learning disability nursing. The most recent data suggests the student intake for these university programmes is low. In 2021, just 530 students were accepted into learning disability nursing degree courses, RCN data shows.

Some nursing specialisations may be less well-known or have a lower public profile compared to other healthcare professions. As a result, fewer nursing students may be aware of the opportunities and benefits associated with working in these highly rewarding areas.


Which is the UK nursing specialisation in highest demand? While there are specific areas with acute shortages, it’s fair to say recruitment is no picnic for virtually all healthcare employers in both public and private sectors.

Engaging a professional nursing recruitment agency, such as WESolutions, presents an excellent choice in this situation! For more than 15 years, we have successfully sourced qualified nurses for a range of UK healthcare employers. Thanks to our vast network of highly skilled international nurses, we can promptly assist you in enhancing your team, allowing you to focus on your primary responsibilities of caring for your patients and employees. For further information on how we can aid in resolving your nurse shortage, please don’t hesitate to contact us.