Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

RCN warns of hidden crisis, as 20,000 nursing posts are unfilled


A growing number of vacant nursing posts represent a “hidden workforce crisis” for the health service, the Royal College of Nursing has warned in a report this week.

Nearly 20,000 nursing vacancies are currently unfilled in England, it claimed, based on evidence collated from freedom of information responses. The findings echo those of a separate investigation by Nursing Times last month.

The government stopped collecting data on NHS staff vacancies in 2011, with the last available data suggesting the vacancy rate for nursing posts was 2.5% in 2010.

The RCN said responses from 61 acute and mental health trusts suggest this figure is now running at an average of 6% – though in some places it is as high as 16%.

The report also found that 22% of trusts surveyed were attempting to fill vacancies by recruiting from abroad, with another 9% considering the possibility.

RCN head of policy Howard Catton said data on vacancies was a “key indicator”, as it showed the difference between the number of staff actually in post and the number needed to ensure patient safety and quality of care.

Howard CattonHoward Catton

He said the findings indicated that many trusts were reversing a trend over the last few years of cutting posts or freezing recruitment in response to concerns about patient safety highlighted by the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

Mr Catton’s comments reconfirm findings published last month by Nursing Times, which first revealed a “Francis effect” that was driving trusts to seek more nurses – in many cases leading them to recruit overseas due a shortage of supply in the UK.

Of 102 trusts that responded to Nursing Times, 73 had allocated more money to employing nurses in 2012-13, compared with the previous financial year. In addition, 59 had increased their number of healthcare assistants.

In addition, 40 trusts had actively recruited nurses from overseas in the last 12 months – leading to 1,360 nurses coming to work in England. A further 41 trusts told Nursing Times they planned to follow suit in the next 12 months.

But Mr Catton warned that a wider global nursing shortage would have implications for trusts seeking to solve their problems by recruiting overseas.

“The ability to go overseas quickly in response to shortages won’t be as easy an option in future,” he told Nursing Times.

The RCN’s Running the Red Light report is the latest from its Frontline First campaign, which was launched in July 2010 to monitor the impact of NHS efficiency savings targets.

Responding to the report, NHS England chief nursing officer Jane Cummings said it was “vital” the NHS had the right workforce to deliver high quality care “first time, every time”.

Jane Cummings

Jane Cummings

“We know that a growing number of trusts are reviewing and increasing their nurse staffing levels to meet local patient need which is very positive,” she added.

“Also, many trusts use qualified nursing staff on a temporary basis which provides flexibility and additional cover when there are vacancies or gaps in staffing to ensure safe staffing levels,” she said.


Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.



Readers' comments (7)

  • RCN warns: what complete drivel! Last year the RCN claimed that 61,276 NHS posts had disappeared in the NHS; surely some of those sixty-one thousand staff could fill these twenty-thousand outstanding post?

    And what is the RCN proposing to do about this? Yeah, you're right absolutely nowt, oh other than put your subs up!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Perhaps the vast surfeit of non clinical staff could be persuaded to consider doing their training and put their dedication to the working within the NHS to the use our Service was designed for... Providing Patient Care.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Would someone kindly tell me where these so-called vacancies are? I've been looking for an NHS registered nurse vacancy in my region for a while now & there aren't any!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • These aren't 'vacancies' but posts that have disappeared by them being frozen or otherwise removed from the establishment.

    The RCN also needs to consider skill-mix. Trusts that rely on agency or inexperienced nurses to fill the gaps are putting patients at risk and we all know it will be the nurses who get the blame when something goes wrong!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Re comment made by Brian Emeney 12 Nov 10.46 p.m. I am a mental health nurse in the community,and during a ward visit yesterday a patient made the comment "Who are those two new nurses, because they don't know what they are doing?" The reply from qualified ward staff TO A PATIENT was, "They are agency staff so they won't know what we do, but they are doing their best". Shocking practice! Another comment made earlier was correct, there are no vacancies as Trusts are not prepared to fill vacant posts with permanent replacements, but are prepared to continue wasting money buying agency labour instead of training their own workforce.

    Another point regarding recruitment is the inflexibility of working hours is a major barrier to many people. There are good nurses who simply can't work shifts due to child or elder care. Why not allow them to work 9-5 ish?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • How about some funding being made available to those wishing to return to practice.
    Or better still, more RTP courses being run!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Is it any wonder that NHS trusts are now struggling to employ nurses in the UK? First of all they cut jobs left, right and center then they freeze payrises whilst the cost of living soars. Now they have stopped all special duty for nurses who have any sick time and there's talk of cutting special duty all together plus the working day has now become so inflexible that it is almost impossible for anyone with children under the age of 10 or other dependants such as elderly relatives to be able to work in such an environment. What happened to a work/home balance and the family-friendly culture that they supposedly uphold?

    No wonder so many people are emigrating abroad... with working conditions the way they are and the constant berating of nurses by the british media, who could blame them?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.