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Vacancy figures are no surprise, but at last provide undeniable evidence of a profession in crisis


One in 10 registered nurse posts in the NHS in England are vacant. That was the figure revealed in the latest quarterly update from NHS Improvement.

The report, which showed how various measures had performed in England during the third quarter of 2017-18, included workforce data from NHS providers for the first time, revealing that over 35,000 nursing posts were vacant in England.

While the regulator’s analysis indicates a slight improvement on vacancies from earlier in the year, it highlights the continuing problem the health service faces in the training and recruitment of nursing staff.

This latest data follows a plethora of stories and warnings about the challenges faced by both the NHS and the nursing profession. We have heard about many impending issues that may also make the situation worse – Brexit, pay, nurses leaving the profession and the scrapping of the student bursary.

Against the backdrop of one of the worst winter crises on record, for me, the report confirms that we have a workforce that is quite simply under-resourced and over-stretched, and facing increasingly difficult working conditions.

“It seems that the issue is at long last taking centre stage after many months of inaction”

These vacancy figures will be of no surprise to nurses working on the front line, but they provide clear, undeniable evidence of the issues that many have been experiencing and, one would hope, makes them even more difficult for political leaders to ignore.

There are simply not enough nurses, and the situation is unsustainable.

Attention has, of course, been drawn to training and recruiting the nurses of tomorrow – but addressing this alone will not solve the crisis, as the profession also faces problems with retention and burnout.

Last month’s Commons’ health select committee report warned that the nursing workforce had for too long been neglected, and that now was the time to support and expand it.

It seems that the issue is at long last taking centre stage after many months of inaction, but as ever, discussing it is only one step towards any actual solution.

“Unless the root causes are addressed, the situation will only get worse”

We need action from the government to address the problems that have been so widely reported. But too often, the rhetoric of party politics gets in the way, and we receive little but assurances that things will be dealt with, or promises that a particular party or politician has everyone’s best interests at heart.

This sort of posturing can only go on for so long and does not get us very far.

It is not sustainable to expect the nursing workforce to continue without adequate resources – the support and appreciation for nurses shown by the public and senior figures is still there, but goodwill alone cannot be a substitute for providing them with the resources they need.

The latest set of warnings, such as those revealed in this week’s NHS Improvement report, must not be ignored.

Unless the root causes are addressed, the situation will only get worse. How many more warnings or statistics will it take before we see a sea change in how the profession is valued?

Nurses must now be given the resources they need to provide the standard of care that patients have a right to expect. Enough is enough.


Readers' comments (3)

  • The pro pre reg crowd won’t agree they are the root cause. Degree standard should have come as a post hospital training Requirement. Paid to learn the practical, learn the true meaning of teamwork. Then enhance those skills in a university setting. Ask any Nurse who developed in Universities post reg how much easier and better it was. Al that advanced theory already had understanding in practice. The nurses could then afford to advance to Degree level It’s not rocket science. The rush to degree status put the cart in front of the horse

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  • I disagree. When nurses were trained in house ie back in the 1980s there was less accountability and medicine was no where near as complex as it is now. Expectations of what a nurse should know and the role they perform is again more challenging. The expectations on a newly qualified nurse are far higher and these nurses need better training so when being brought to account and asked to justify what they are doing they can answer better than "because sister told me to..." I have no problem with educating our new student nurses to a higher level than what previous generations were required to do.

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  • It is questionable to what extent degree training is responsible for the current nursing problems.
    I think the real issue is that more and more people realise what an awful profession it is.
    It is full of bullying malicious managers,just plain nasty colleagues whose sole aim in life is to cause trouble for others, replete with serial complaining patients,all backed up by the equally malicious NMC.
    Anyone thinking of nursing as a career DONT.
    If there is doubt in your minds regarding these assertions read about what happened to Amin Abdullah.
    I have talked 8 youngsters out of embarking on a nursing career and when they have found out from their nursing friends just how bad it is they have thanked me.
    Dont waste your time,intellect ,money and your future on this rotten profession.

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