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Nurse vacancies increased by almost 2,000 over past 12 months

There remain more than 40,000 nursing posts unfilled in the NHS in England, according to new figures from NHS Improvement.

The figures, which cover July-September this year, showed that there were 40,877 nursing posts unfilled – equating to 11.6% of all posts. This is a slight reduction on the previous three months, where there were 41,337 unfilled posts. But compared to July-September in 2017, it is an increase in vacancies of 1,723 (0.4%).

About 80% of the nursing vacancies are being filled by a combination of bank (64%) and agency staff (36%).

In terms of community nursing, there was a rise of 40 vacancies for this quarter, but year-on-year vacancies have fallen by more than 300 to 1,545.

There were regional variations to these figures. While in London there was a slight reduction in the number of vacancies in the July-September period, the Midlands and East, North and South all registered increases in unfilled posts. However, year-on-year, the trend is reversed, with only London having more vacancies than this time last year.

Overall, London has 12.7% of community nursing posts vacant. However, in the North, only 1.1% are unfilled.

In its report, NHS Improvement admits that the current vacancy position in the nursing workforce remains a challenge.

The report states: ‘Every unfilled shift poses an operational challenge on the front line, so we are supporting providers to improve the retention of staff and sharing best practice case studies as part of the focus on reducing temporary staffing.’

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the Government to ensure it comes up with a sustainable way to tackle staff shortages in the upcoming NHS 10-year plan.

Acting RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘[These figures] underline the false economy of leaving posts without permanent staff. Despite earmarking the spending on agency nursing workers as an area for efficiency savings, the health service spent nearly 10% more than planned on plugging gaps in the nursing workforce.

‘It is clear as day to nurses, midwives and health care assistants on the ground that the NHS is dealing with unsustainable workforce shortages. 

‘NHS England must provide at least £1bn per year to invest in nursing higher education to guarantee future safe staffing levels.’