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NHS Digital. NHS vacancy statistics England, February 2015 - June 2019, provisional experimental statistics. 2019. (accessed 4 January 2020)

Royal College of Nursing. Safe and effective staffing: the real picture. 2017. (accessed 4 January 2020)

Overstretched and struggling

13 February 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 3

In too many areas and specialties, the nursing workforce is overstretched and struggling to cope with demand. The House of Commons Health Committee (2018) heard this during the inquiry into the nursing workforce and the concerns about the impact these pressures have on morale, retention and standards of care for patients. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)(2017), estimated that in England, as of 1 December 2016, there were 40 000 vacant nursing positions. These vacant posts were not just in the NHS, but there are also serious staffing gaps in care homes and in independent hospitals. There is a nursing workforce crisis.

In England there is no agreed measure of the shortfall in the nursing workforce. The RCN surveyed every NHS trust in England (except ambulance trusts) seeking information on how many full-time equivalent nursing places they had been funded for and how many vacancies they had; 76% responded, with around 30 200 vacancies, and statistical modelling was used to account for the non-responders. NHS England does not publish concrete data on the number of vacancies, what is published is described as ‘experimental’ and based on the number of job advertisements put out. NHS Digital (2019) noted that in June 2019 using its ‘provisional experimental statistics’ there were 29 005 full-time equivalent vacancies advertised in England compared with 31 198 in 2018, 30 493 in 2017 and 29 855 in 2016. In June 2019 the highest share of advertised vacancies was taken by the nursing and midwifery group, which accounted for 41% (11 775/29 005).

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