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Revealed: extent of NHS nurse vacancies not covered by bank or agency staff

Every unfilled shift is an operational challenge for the front line, says NHS Improvement

Every unfilled shift is an operational challenge for the front line, says NHS Improvement


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One in five nursing vacancies in England’s NHS are not covered by any nurse – despite heavy reliance on bank and agency staff.

Latest workforce data from NHS Improvement recorded 40,877 nursing vacancies in England between July and September this year. Four out of five of these were filled by a combination of agency or bank staff, meaning 20% were not covered at all.

This compares to 35,794 nursing vacancies in the final quarter of 2017/18, of which 95% were covered by a combination of bank and agency staff.

Better staff retention needed

In its latest report, NHS Improvement noted ‘every unfilled shift poses an operational challenge on the front line’ and encouraged providers to focus on reducing temporary staffing through retention and sharing best practice.

London is the worst-performing of the English regions, with a 14.6% nursing vacancy rate, equating to 9,649 vacancies.

‘Well-intentioned government announcements without staff to deliver the care won’t wash anymore – it’s irresponsible to wait until next year for the spending review to tackle this’

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN general secretary

Overall, the acute sector has the highest level of nursing vacancies in England at 30,010, followed by mental health, where there are 8,784.

‘Damning statistics’

RCN acting chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair described the figures as ‘damning’.

‘Despite everything we know about the consequences for patients and the abundance of research on safe care, the number of unfilled nurse jobs is rising year on year, not falling,’ Professor Kinnair said.

‘Our long-term plan for the NHS will put our health service on a long-term sustainable footing’

Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson

‘NHS staff are looking expectantly to the long-term plan to show that help is on the way. Well-intentioned announcements from government without staff to deliver the care won’t wash anymore and it’s irresponsible, wishful thinking to wait until next year for the spending review to tackle this.'

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We're training 25% more doctors, nurses and midwives, and our historic long-term plan for the NHS, backed by an extra £20.5 billion a year, will improve front-line services and put our health service on a long-term sustainable footing.'

The NHS long-term plan is due to be published later this month.


Related material

Latest NHS Improvement workforce statistics


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