Ministers are being warned of a growing workforce crisis in England’s hospitals as they struggle to recruit tens of thousands of nursing vacancies, with one in five nursing positions in some wards now unfilled.
Hospital leaders say the nursing shortage has been compounded by a collapse in the number of recruits from Europe, including Spain and Italy.
The most recent figures from the NHS reveal that there are around 39,000 openings for registered nurses in England, with one in 10 nursing positions unfilled in acute care rooms in London and one in five nursing positions empty in mental health rooms in London. Southeast.
The number of nurses from the European Economic Area joining the register of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has fallen more than 90%, from 9,389 in the year to March 31, 2016 to 810 in the year to March 31, 2021 .
Thousands of nursing shifts each week cannot be filled due to staff shortages, according to reports from hospital security personnel seen by the Observer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is already under pressure from a UK worker shortage after Brexit, from truckers to farm workers. Concerns among health chiefs about the impact of acute staffing shortages on patient care are revealed when experts warned last week that the flu could kill as many as 60,000 this winter.
NHS England is paying NHS trusts up to £ 7,000 for each vacant position to attempt to recruit nurses from foreign countries, including India and the Philippines.
Patricia Marquis, England Director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “There are simply not enough staff to provide the care that is needed, and now we have a nursing staffing crisis. We should never have put ourselves in a position where we were so reliant on international nurses. We are on the razor’s edge. “
Hospital trusts struggling to fill nursing positions include:
University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, which manages Royal Stoke University Hospital and Stafford County Hospital, and which has reported 401 unfilled nursing positions to its board, a vacancy rate of 12%. The trust temporarily suspended non-emergency operations last month due to high demand and a shortage of staff. You are hiring nurses from abroad, including from India and Ghana.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which has reported nearly 700 openings for nurses, midwives and doctors in the operations department, a vacancy rate of 13%. He postponed 287 operations in July and August and asked last weekend for nurses to work additional shifts due to “staff shortages in our intensive care rooms.”
Mid and South Essex NHS foundation trust, with a 17% vacancy rate for nurses, one of the highest in the country. It has 2,269 full-time clinical and non-clinical openings. The trust reported that up to 1,850 patients a month waited more than four hours at A&E during the summer due to staff shortages.
A survey conducted by the Unite union of 188 intensive care staff from the Guy and St Thomas NHS foundation has uncovered staff concerns about the “chronic” shortage of nurses and risks to patient safety. Nine out of ten employees reported that their department was understaffed each shift.
Dave Carr, 58, an intensive care nurse at St Thomas Hospital and Unite representative, said: “I work in intensive care for patients recovering from surgery and we need up to 11 nurses on that shift, one for each patient. . We usually only have three or four of our own nurses available and we have to borrow nurses from other areas or hire temporary staff. The staff is absolutely devastated. More than 100 nurses have left the trust in the last 10 months ”.
Shelley Pearce, 34, an accident and emergency nurse and RCN workplace representative in southern England, said nurses in Europe were abused by some members of the public after the Brexit referendum. She said, “I can understand very well why some made the decision to go home because they didn’t seem like they were loved.”
The government has pledged to increase the number of NHS nurses by 50,000 by 2025. NHS England announced £ 28 million funding in September last year to recruit nurses from abroad to help pay for accommodation, flights and quarantine. The initial cost of hiring a nurse from abroad is between £ 10,000 and £ 12,000.
By comparison, it takes three years to train a nurse in the UK and costs between £ 50,000 and £ 70,000. The government does not pay tuition fees, but provides maintenance grants worth at least £ 5,000 per year.
There is a global shortage of nurses and consequently there has been criticism of trusts that hire overseas rather than train more UK staff. The new minister for care and mental health, Gillian Keegan, is even reported to have called it “incredibly inefficient and also wrong and just plain weird.”
Despite this, a report by the Nuffield Trust think tank commissioned by the NHS and released last week said that significant recruitment from abroad would be required if the government’s nursing goal is to be met. Saffron Cordery, deputy executive director of NHS Providers, called for an all-cost workforce plan in this month’s government spending review.
She said: “We have had a labor shortage for many years, and we have seen it exacerbated by Brexit. The workforce is the engine of any hospital and when there are shifts that do not fill, it is a great challenge. “
Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation, said: “We have experienced the pressure that we would normally see in the winter months during the summer. Many staff members predict this will be one of the toughest winters the NHS has ever faced. “
A survey of more than 1,000 NHS employees by the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, a charity that supports health care employees, found that 73% considered leaving in the past year. Nearly one in three front-line employees said they would likely leave next year.
The total number of full-time equivalent vacancies on the NHS in England has risen from 83,203 in June 2020 to 93,806 in June 2021, according to figures from NHS Digital, the government health and information center. During the same period, nursing job vacancies increased from 37,760 to 38,952.
The hospital trusts say they are hiring staff from abroad to help fill the positions. The North Midlands University Hospitals NHS trust said it had recently hired nearly 300 additional nurses, including 93 from abroad. The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said staffing was an “ongoing challenge” but was successfully recruiting new staff. The Mid and South Essex NHS foundation trust said its gaps were filled by agencies and temporary staff. A spokesperson for the Guy and St Thomas NHS foundation confirmed 118 nurses left this year, but said 97 started and another 30 were undergoing pre-employment checks. A spokesperson said the trust was listening to all concerns raised by staff. The trust said, “The safety of our patients and the well-being of our staff are our top priorities. We are investing in hiring more nurses, as well as continuing to provide extensive health and wellness support to our staff. “
Health experts say the overall NHS workforce is growing, but not enough to meet demand, and the share of unfilled jobs in England’s NHS has grown over the year.
The NHS said: “The NHS is committed to reducing nursing vacancies, including through international recruitment, and increasing welfare support for existing staff to increase retention.
“The nursing and midwifery workforce grew by more than 2.7% over the past year with more than 330,000 additional full-time employees providing care, and 80,000 people nationwide applied for a nursing course this year.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism