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The job market for nurses is a volatile one. Job availability tends to change on a cyclical basis with peaks and troughs of jobs, but by summer 2006 the trend was very much one of job cutbacks.

In July 2006 the RCN estimated that 15,000 NHS posts were at risk (including 6,000 nursing posts), some of which had already gone. This marked the culmination of a year of job freezes and redundancies around trusts in the UK. One of the highest was at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, which planned to shed 1,000 jobs including nearly 400 nurses.

Financial deficits at a small but significant number of trusts are partly to blame for these cut backs as are current mergers of primary care trusts, but they may also be the result of over-recruitment of nurses. Since Labour came to power in 1997 the number of nurses in England has risen by 23%.

This rise was in answer to large shortages of nurses at the end of the 1990s, which prompted the government to run several high-profile national recruitment campaigns, increase the numbers entering the profession and recruit large numbers of overseas nurses.

It appears that the NHS may now have too many nurses, given the scale of cutbacks. The vacancy rate is also now minimal and the government has made it more difficult for employers to hire overseas nurses. There has also been a drive to cut back sharply on use of temporary staff from agencies and also trusts’ own banks.

Other factors will affect this such as the reality that nursing is an ageing workforce and one-quarter of nurses are aged over 50, meaning that large numbers of nurses will be retiring before too long.

Newly qualified nurses are now struggling to find jobs and new data published in June 2006 said that only one out of every 100 such nurses was certain to get a job and a NT survey carried out in August 2006 found that only one-third of students qualifying within a month had secured a job.

The problem has been made worse by job cutbacks, but also the large scale recruitment of overseas nurses at the start of the decade. These overseas nurses often remain stuck in the lower band nursing posts, thus unwittingly preventing newly qualified nurses from getting into the NHS job market.

Updated: September 2006

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