Extent of gap between demand and supply of nurses revealed by NHS

Pay restraint and Brexit to blame for falling nurse numbers and rising vacancies, unions say
Janet Davies

Pay restraint and Brexit are to blame for falling nurse numbers and rising vacancies highlighted in an NHS report, unions say.

NHS cannot fill its vacancies, says RCN general secretary Janet Davies.  Picture: Barney Newman

NHS Digital data revealed the number of job advertisements between 1 January-31 March 2017 for full-time-equivalent (FTE) nurse and midwife posts in England increased by 3,678 compared with the same period in 2016.

It brought the total number of FTE vacancies to 32,929, although NHS Digital pointed out one advertisement could be used to fill more than one vacancy, meaning the real number of staff required could be higher.

Increasing demand

The demand for nurses has intensified against a backdrop of rising vacancies for doctors and dentists, with 1,786 more roles advertised for in the first quarter of this year, compared with 2016.

Figures published by NHS Digital today revealed a fall of almost 500 FTE nurses and health visitors working in NHS hospitals and community services in the year to April. In April 2016 there were 285,080 FTE nurses and health visitors, but this fell to 284,619 this year.

The RCN noted a fall of 1,274 FTE nurses and health visitors between March and April 2017, although the Department of Health said this was a seasonal fluctuation linked to recruitment and training cycles.

Double whammy

College general secretary Janet Davies said: 'This is a double whammy of bad news for nursing. At the very moment the NHS needs to be recruiting more nursing staff, we learn the number is falling and the NHS finds itself advertising for more jobs we know it cannot fill.

'The true number of unfilled jobs is far higher than the number of online adverts and stands at 40,000 in England alone.

'More people are leaving nursing than joining – deterred by low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs. For the sake of patient safety, the chancellor must scrap the cap on pay and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacancies.'

Government failure

Unite trade union national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: 'The NHS is faced with a perfect storm over recruitment, which is disclosed in the sharp and very disturbing rise in advertised vacancies in England.

'The government’s failure, so far, to come to an agreement on EU nationals staying in a post-Brexit UK is leading to vital EU workers in the NHS to vote with their feet.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'Staffing is a priority, that's why we have invested in the frontline and there are almost 32,400 more professionally qualified clinical staff including almost 11,800 more doctors, and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.'

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