The Welsh Government has for the first time released ‘experimental’ data outlining nursing vacancies across the country.
The first-of-its-kind data – which has been long campaigned for by nursing leaders – records NHS staff vacancies as of the end of December 2022 and was published on Stats Wales last month.
Figures showed there were 2,409 full-time equivalent (FTE) registered nursing, midwifery and health visiting vacancies in the NHS in Wales – accounting for almost half of the total 4,996 vacancies recorded.
At 8.9%, the vacancy rate was the same as in England during December 2022, however the rate in England has since increased to 9.9% as of March 31, according to the most recent data.
There were also 813 FTE nursing, midwifery, and health visitor support worker vacancies at the end of December 2022, with a vacancy rate of 6.2%.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales director Helen Whyley said the rising rate of nursing vacancies was ‘a real problem’ that the government needed to address.
‘Many nurses are choosing to work for agencies instead of the NHS because they can earn more and have control over their working lives,’ she added.
‘If the government addressed these issues, nursing vacancies would not be this high.’
She also highlighted that a nurse retention plan for the devolved nation was ‘still not published’ despite being promised for April. This was ‘a disappointing start to a plan that aims to accelerate actions’, she added.
In addition, Ms Whyley also said that the Welsh Government should take action ‘urgently’ on pre-registration student nursing places.
Recent UCAS data showed that Wales recorded the largest decline in applications to start a nursing programme in 2023 of all UK nations, with applications down 21% from the previous year.
The RCN, which had campaigned for the publication of nursing workforce numbers, also drew attention to the experimental nature of the government’s analysis.
The RCN claims the number of registered nurse vacancies in the NHS in Wales is ‘at least’ 3,000 – significantly higher than the numbers recorded by the government.
But the RCN’s own data was compiled using different sources to the government, drawing from figures published in health board papers and through responses to Freedom of Information requests, therefore meaning the two data sets are not directly comparable.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: ‘We know that recruiting new staff is as important as staff retention.’
‘The plan confirms our commitment to taking the steps necessary, however difficult, to ensure we have a health and social care system that is configured and equipped to deal with the demands of tomorrow, so that it is sustainable for future generations,’ they said.
In addition, the Welsh Government said it had increased its NHS training budget for the ninth year in a row, creating more than 380 additional nurse training places.