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Nurse vacancy levels 'very worrying', says RCN general secretary

Figures obtained by the BBC reveal surge in unfilled nursing posts

Poor workforce planning has been blamed for nearly one in ten nursing posts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland being unfilled.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the BBC show more than 23,443 nursing posts are vacant. This represents 9% of the total workforce and is in stark contrast to the average UK vacancy rate of 2.7% across all employment sectors.

In 2013 the number of nurse vacancies was 12,513. This rose to 18,714 at the beginning of 2015, before hitting the latest peak in December last year. Figures show that 69% of NHS employers, including those in Scotland, are attempting to address the crisis by recruiting nurses from overseas.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘Nursing posts are often the first target when savings need to be made, leading the NHS to find itself dangerously short and having to spend more on agency staff and recruitment from other countries.

‘The modest increases made in training places are not nearly enough to tackle current problems or the significant challenges facing the NHS over the coming decade.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health insisted staffing is a priority, and said 10,600 additional nurses have been placed on wards in England since May 2010. 

However, the DH acknowledged ‘much more needs to be done’ and said the changes in the way nurse, midwife and allied health professionals' training is funded would create up to 10,000 more places by the end of this parliament.

The figures were obtained by the Inside Out programme, which will be broadcast tonight on BBC1 at 7.30pm.

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