Almost 11,500 nursing and midwifery vacancies were published on the health service’s official jobs website in March in England, representing a 17% increase in a year.
The latest official data, from NHS Digital, shows there were 30,613 whole-time equivalent jobs advertised among all staff groups in March – the highest on record since this type of data began being collected in February 2015.
A total of 38% – or 11,485 – of these were for nursing or midwifery posts, which made up the largest proportion compared with other professions.
“At the very moment we need to be recruiting more nursing staff, we learn the number is falling and the NHS is advertising for more jobs”
This was followed by 6,575 jobs advertised for administrative and clerical staff – making up 21% of all adverts. There were 4,043 advertisements for medical and dental jobs, equal to 13%.
NHS Digital’s biannual report showed a 17% increase among nursing and midwifery adverts, from 9,784 in March 2016.
It also revealed nursing and midwifery adverts hit the highest level they have ever been in January 2017, when there were 11,493 posted on the website. This compares with 9,910 in January 2016 and 8,392 in February 2015 when the data collection began.
However, NHS Digital noted that one job posting could be used to advertise several vacancies and so the statistics only represented the minimum number of vacancies advertised.
“For the sake of patient safety, the chancellor must scrap the cap on pay and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs”
Meanwhile, another set of workforce statistics released by NHS Digital today shows the total number of nurses and midwives employed in the NHS in England fell in April 2017 – compared with both the month before and a year previously.
There were 284,619 nursing staff in April, which was a drop of 1,274 from the month before, or 461 from the same point in 2016.
The Royal College of Nursing said the reports were a “double whammy of bad news” for the profession.
“At the very moment the NHS needs to be recruiting more nursing staff, we learn the number is falling and the NHS finds itself advertising for more jobs we know it cannot fill,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
She warned there were far more vacancies than today’s report indicated, noting that the union estimated England had 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs.
“A lethal cocktail of factors is resulting in too few nurses and patient care is suffering,” she said. “The government desperately needs to keep the experienced staff still working in the NHS.
“More people are leaving nursing than joining – deterred by low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs. For the sake of patient safety, the chancellor must scrap the cap on pay and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs,” she said.
“Theresa May must now take urgent action to secure a sustainable workforce in our NHS”
Ms Davies also called for the government to bring in legislation on nurse staffing laws.
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There is no incentive for midwives to stay in midwifery or for students to consider joining a profession that’s so badly over stretched in terms of staffing and as a result of public sector pay restraint in the NHS over the past 7 years midwives have seen their pay drop in value by over £6,000 since 2010.
“The RCM has warned for sometime now that more midwives are leaving the profession than ever before, this coupled with the current shortage of 3,500 midwives is putting increasing pressure and strain on maternity services,” he said. “Midwives are working increasingly harder and frequently working hours past their shift unpaid while their pay is plummeting in value every year so these vacancy figures comes as no surprise.
“Last year the RCM published a survey that found 80% of midwives who were considering leaving the NHS would be persuaded to stay if they had a fair pay rise,” he said. “The government must recognise that NHS staff need a pay rise so they can recruit and retain the necessary numbers of staff to provide the highest level of safe care.”
Responding to the release of the vacancy statistics, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “The figures illustrate the huge efforts being made by employers to recruit talented health and care staff across the board, but they also highlight the growing demand for these staff.
“Employers are working especially hard to bring in more nurses – 38% of all advertised vacancies were listed as ‘nursing and midwifery registered’,” he said.
“We accept that retention is just as important as recruitment to keep vacancy levels low – that’s why NHS Employers has been working with 92 NHS organisations to support their work to retain staff,” said Mr Mortimer.
“Above all, we now need certainty for EEA nationals in health and social care, and an immigration system that complements domestic efforts – this will help ensure we have the staff required to provide first class care in the 21st century,” he added.
Labour health spokesman Justin Madders said: “Theresa May has overseen an unprecedented workforce crisis in the NHS. Her incompetence has left our health service with a shortage of 40,000 nurses, 3,500 midwives and 10,000 GPs.”
“For years the Tories have taken NHS staff for granted and asked them to do more for less, resulting in a recruitment and retention crisis which threatens patient care on a daily basis,” he said.
“Frankly the government’s solution of hiring expensive agency staff or asking hard-pressed existing staff to cover extra shifts is not in the best of interests of patients or medical professionals,” he said.
“The public is under no illusions: a repeat of last winter’s crisis is simply intolerable and Theresa May must now take urgent action to secure a sustainable workforce in our NHS,” he added.
“Staffing is a priority - that’s why we have invested in the frontline and there are…over 12,500 more nurses on our wards since May 2010”
Department of Health
The Liberal Democrats said the NHS had become overworked, underpaid and understaffed under the current government.
“The NHS is finding it harder and harder to recruit the staff it needs, yet still this government is refusing to end years of cuts to pay,” said Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb.
“It’s a disgrace that many nurses will see their real wages slashed yet again this year,” he said. “The public sector pay cap must urgently be lifted to give our hardworking NHS staff the pay rise they deserve.”
But a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Staffing is a priority – that’s why we have invested in the frontline and there are almost 32,400 more professionally qualified clinical staff including almost 11,800 more doctors, and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.”