The number of nursing vacancies has fallen by nearly 40 per cent in the last year, according to data gathered by Nursing Times.
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Only 1,446 positions for nursing jobs were advertised on the NHS Jobs website last week, compared with 2,389 in the same week last year.
The figures, together with new data from the NHS Information Centre, have fuelled fears that NHS trusts are freezing vacancies, are not replacing nurses and are converting posts to lower grades in order to tighten budgets.
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing, said freezing posts was a short term solution and urged employers to take a longer term view. She explained: “We have seen responses to financial crises come and go and posts get mothballed. That puts a strain on everybody else and leads to issues with spiralling workloads and work related stress. The work doesn’t go away.”
Queen Margaret University professor of health and social sciences James Buchan said the mix of nurses and healthcare assistants within wards may be changing.
He told Nursing Times: “The long term growth in the NHS has peaked and we are beginning to see some skill mix changes as a result of that.”
Professor Buchan said the lower number of vacancies could be caused by nurses hanging on to posts in the uncertain jobs market.
But Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams warned that a shortage of vacancies would affect the employment prospects of up to 15,000 newly qualified nurses graduating in August and September. She said: “There’s a significant shortfall in posts.”
Figures released by the NHS Information Centre last week also confirm the drop in nursing vacancies. A snapshot taken in March found that vacancies as a percentage of all nursing positions fell from 3.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent year on year.
Despite the overall fall in vacancies, the data showed that long term unfilled posts in midwifery went up - reflecting an ongoing shortage of midwives. In March this year, 255 midwife positions had been vacant for three months or more compared with 191 in the previous year.
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