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RCN issues warning over nursing shortage in capital

A major survey of nursing in London has revealed higher than average vacancy rates and “dangerous” cuts to senior nursing posts, amid a growing workforce shortage in the capital.

The research by the Royal College of Nursing’s London region found a regional vacancy rate for nursing jobs of 11% – nearly twice the national average of 6%.

Some trusts reported around one in five, or 20%, of nursing roles were unfilled, with just three reporting below average vacancy rates.

The report highlights growing difficulties for trusts to recruit suitably qualified nurses, with more than 6,700 posts currently unfilled – despite mounting pressure to ensure safe staffing levels on wards.

A national report published by the college last month estimated nearly 20,000 nursing vacancies were currently unfilled in England, echoing findings from an investigation by Nursing Times in October. Nursing Times also revealed at least a third of trusts in England were actively recruiting nurses from abroad.

The RCN London report estimates around 300 nurses a month are taking early retirement in the capital, because of cutbacks and re-organisations, while trusts are increasingly relying on agency and bank staff or turning to overseas recruitment. It warned of a “growing workforce shortage in London nursing”.

“There is a danger that the hard work of trusts in protecting posts is being undermined by a difficulty in finding suitably qualified nurses to take those jobs,” the report stated.

“We also have concerns that not enough is being done to systematically encourage young people from all of London’s communities and backgrounds to consider nursing as a realistic career.”

Overall the research – based on data from 39 trusts in London – found the number of nursing posts in the capital had remained relatively stable.

There appeared to be no sign London trusts planned to boost numbers, despite evidence that the national nursing workforce would increase by around 4,000 next year in the light of a series of high profile reports highlighting links between staffing levels and quality care.

RCN regional director Bernell Bussue said: “On the evidence the RCN has heard, London will see no benefit at all from the promised boost to nursing numbers in 2014.

Bernell Bussue

Bernell Bussue

“With cuts to out of hospital care driving up attendances and waiting lists, London’s NHS trusts must give thought to whether protecting current numbers is enough to support an ever increasing demand from patients and to support the drive for better care in the community,” he said.

Meanwhile, the survey also a revealed a reduction in senior roles, with an overall 3% cut in band 8 posts as well as reductions in band 7 and 8 roles.

“Our concern is that this trend of hollowing out leadership positions will increasingly have a negative impact on the management and provision of safe patient care,” said Mr Bussue.

The report suggested cuts in nursing staff appeared more severe among trusts that have yet to achieve foundation trust status, with an overall 3% reduction in nurses compared to an overall 4% increase in staff at foundation trusts.

“There is a danger that the demands of the foundation trust application process are still leading some employers to make unsafe staffing cuts in order to balance the books,” the report warned.


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Readers' comments (2)

  • RCN shoot themselves in the foot by hiding behind these figures. Their 20,000 vacancy figure refers to frozen jobs ie not available and not advertised. Meanwhile all bodies refuse to acknowledge that many (my figure is 2 thirds) of the 20000 student nurses , training paid for by the government, cannot get jobs. Why go abroad? Cheaper and complain less. Do have references. many companies and the NHS, have contracts with overseas agencies by which they obtain staff. The issue is- not lack of UK nurses- but lack of available vacancies. The same issue exists in other countries (Williams 2013).

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  • Never mind "Our concern is that this trend of hollowing out leadership positions will increasingly have a negative impact on the management and provision of safe patient care" - what about nurses themselves? Is it wrong for them to want a career structure and move up the banding system? Nurses are breadwinners too and some want to try and becomes specialists or consultant nurses. I know that if I was to be a Band 5 for the rest of my life there is no way that I would consider nursing as a "profession" and career path. Currently, this government seems to have no aspiration for nurses to develop their careers.

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