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Nurse numbers rise but vacancies remain ‘stubbornly high’

An empty hospital due to unfilled nursing posts.


Nurse numbers in the NHS in England are up by almost 15,000 from the same time last year, but concern remains among nursing groups about vacancy rates.

The government has argued the NHS workforce data up until the end of August, published yesterday, shows it is on track to deliver its promise of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024/25.

Separate NHS vacancy data, also published yesterday, revealed England has 36,655 unfilled nursing posts – although this represents a 13% fall from 43,452 the same time last year.

RCN director for England Mike Adams warned: ‘The government continues to say it is on course to meet the target of 50,000 more nurses, but today’s figures show the vacancy rate for the planned nursing workforce remains stubbornly high.’

The workforce figures showed that the number of full-time nurses went up by 14,813, from 280,599 to 295,412. The number of doctors also rose by 6,257 since 2019 to a record 121,726 over the same time period.

The vacancy data also includes a shortage of 2,370 community nurses and 9,541 mental health nurses. It does not cover vacancies outside the NHS such as in general practice and social care.

Earlier this week, the chancellor Rushi Sunak said NHS workers including nurses will receive a pay rise next year as expected, despite campaigns for an early pay rise from unions.

But Mr Adams said the vacancy figures, released ‘just one day after the chancellor delayed boosting the pay of nursing staff’, show that a pay rise is ‘desperately needed’.

‘Ministers must get nursing recruitment back on track by paying nursing staff the wages they deserve,’ he added.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Not only do we have record numbers of doctors and over 14,800 more nurses working in our NHS than last year, but our pipeline of future talent in nursing, medicine and general practice is now at record levels.

‘We are well on our way to deliver on our manifesto commitment of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS,’ he added. 

In September, the RCN has warned that ‘more Government action’ is needed to retain the existing workforce, despite a 23% rise in student nurse acceptance rates onto courses.