Wales must join the rest of the UK in publishing national statistics for nursing vacancies, amid workforce shortages concerns, RCN Wales has said.
The RCN Wales workforce report, published yesterday, estimates there are currently 1,719 nursing vacancies in the NHS in Wales alone, up from 1,612 in 2020 – but the actual number could be higher because it is based on incomplete and inconsistent data.
And the latest figures from Social Care Wales show registered nurses in care homes fell from 1,545 in 2018 to 1,438 in 2019, with care home providers and RCN Wales members also reporting a current ‘acute shortage’ of registered nurses in care homes and staff leaving their jobs.
The report called for the Welsh Government to publish vacancy statistics and ‘urgently’ launch a national retention strategy to keep nurses working in NHS Wales. It argued that working out how many nurses are needed through workforce planning ‘has never been seen as a necessity’ in Wales.
Because of the high vacancy rate, Wales is heavily reliant on ‘nurses’ good will to work overtime’, which is sometimes unpaid, and expensive agency and bank staff, it found. NHS Wales should focus on retention of existing staff by giving them ‘more control over when they work,’ it advised.
In addition, it stressed healthcare support workers (HCSWs) are ‘not a substitute for registered nurses’ and does not ‘meaningfully’ address registered nursing vacancies. Many health boards have increased the number of nursing support staff amid rising nurse vacancies, it added.
A national scheme should be launched for HCSWs, and anyone who wants to train while working, to become registered nurses, as current opportunities are ‘limited’, it said.
The report also called for the Welsh Government to:
- Review Covid-19 recovery plans recognising the need for additional nursing staff for the vaccination programme.
- Ensure the needs of the populations are reflected in the numbers of nurses trained on pre- and post-registration nursing courses.
- Launch a national programme to raise the profile of nursing in care homes, and equalise terms and conditions between the health and care sectors.
It also repeated calls for the public to sign a petition demanding that the safe staffing levels act – which was introduced in 2014 and outlines how to calculate appropriate nursing levels on inpatient wards in hospitals – is extended to community and mental health nursing.