Parts of the NHS are hiring only one nurse for every 400 jobs advertised, show new figures that reveal the extent of nursing staff shortages in England.
The statistics, released today by NHS Digital, reveal that the number of vacant nursing jobs reached a new high in the three months to the end of September 2017.
“It has never been busier but is shedding experienced nurses quicker than it can find new ones”
At that point there were 34,260 nursing and midwifery posts advertised, which is nearly 2,500 more than the previous quarter and more than 2,600 up on the same period in 2016.
The data also shows that, as of September 2017, nursing and midwifery had the highest percentage of unfilled whole-time equivalent (WTE) roles out of all NHS staff groups, accounting for 40%.
The figures come amid mounting concern over the number of nurses leaving the NHS, with the rate of departures outstripping the number entering the profession.
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A breakdown according to trust type shows the highest number of nursing and midwifery vacancies at acute trusts. with more than 24,000 nursing jobs unfilled in the quarter up to September 2017.
There were nearly 7,500 vacancies in mental health trusts, nearly 2,250 in community providers, 217 vacancies in clinical commissioning groups, and 91 in commissioning support units.
As of September 2017, the highest number of WTE vacancies in nursing and midwifery were for band 5 roles at more than 6,700, followed by 2,650 band 6 roles and more than 1,000 band 7 jobs. There were more than 360 vacancies in nurse roles at band 8a and above and six vacant “senior manager” roles.
“It is particularly worrying to see the drop in numbers of community nurses”
In addition, the latest available data on recruitment shows the NHS filled one nurse job for around every seven posts advertised across England in the three months up to June 2017.
However, some areas fared worse than others with the Thames Valley region hiring just five nurses for 1,957 advertised posts – roughly one new nurse appointment nurse for every 400 empty roles.
Meanwhile NHS organisations in the West Midlands NHS managed to fill the greatest number of posts, hiring 1,196 nurses and midwives for 2,817 roles advertised.
The second worst recruitment rate was seen in North West London with 42 nurses recruited for 2,545 posts – about one for every 60 vacancies.
Across the capital, the figures suggested there is just one nurse for every 24 or so jobs. But the Royal College of Nursing warned the situation was likely to be “much worse” as multiple vacancies were often advertised and recorded as single posts.
RCN London regional director Bernell Bussue said the statistics painted a “shocking picture”, with thousands of posts remaining empty “despite hospitals desperately advertising to fill them”.
“The problem is not the willingness of providers to employ nurses, but the fact that they are having to fish from an ever shrinking pool,” he said.
Nationally, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said nurses were being driven away from the profession by low pay and stressful working conditions.
“The next generation of British nurses has been deterred by the current whirlwind tearing through the NHS – record pressure, lack of funding and poor pay for staff,” she said.
“It has never been busier but is shedding experienced nurses quicker than it can find new ones,” she said. “Earlier cuts to training places are exacerbating the problem just as long-serving staff feel demoralised and pushed to leave nursing.”
Ms Davies called on the government to invest in the profession and ensure robust workforce planning. “When the government allows nursing on the cheap, patients can pay the highest price,” she said.
“It is time to draw a line under this false economy with urgent investment in services and those who provide them – including a pay rise above inflation – and legislation to make ministers accountable for workforce planning and safe staffing levels,” she added.
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Responding to the vacancy statistics, the head of analysis at NHS Providers, Phillippa Hentsch, said: “These figures are a further reminder of the difficulties trusts face in recruiting and retaining nurses.
“They show that overall nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS rose by 19% in the last two years,” she said. “It is particularly worrying to see the drop in numbers of community nurses.”
She added: “We urgently need a sustainable approach to securing and developing an NHS workforce that is able to respond to growing and changing demand.”