The Royal College of Nursing claims that nearly one in six nursing posts at some NHS hospitals are vacant.
Some NHS hospitals are functioning with 20,000 less nurses than needed, a new report from ministers has warned.
Across the NHS in England there are a total of 19,526 full-time nursing posts left unfilled due to the Whitehall-ordered drive to save £20bn by 2015 in “efficiency gains”.
The RCN’s chief executive Dr Peter Carter, has said that the health service is about to be hit by “a hidden workforce crisis” due to the hospital trusts having pared their staffing levels “down to the bone” reports the Guardian.
Official NHS workforce data highlights that the service in England has removed 3,859 full time equivalent nursing, midwifery and health-visiting posts since 2010, which equals 6,468 because many NHS staff work part-time.
The RCN claims vacancy rates show a wider gap between the number of staff in post and the number needed to ensure high-quality patient care.
“With rising demand for healthcare services, workforce shortages will have significant implications for staffing levels and the ability of providers to deliver safe, good quality care for patients,” the RCN warns in the report, called Running the Red Light. Understaffing on this scale “will have serious consequences for patient safety”.
One in five trusts are recruiting nurses from abroad to fill gaps whilst another 9% are considering doing so, said the RCN.
Peter Walsh, the chief executive of patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), said: “The extent of nursing shortages is very alarming given the urgent need to improve patient safety evidenced by the Mid Staffordshire and other scandals.
Norman Lamb, the health minister, said: “Nursing leaders have been clear that hospitals should publish staffing details and the evidence to show the numbers are right for the services they deliver. Patient safety experts agree that safe staff-patient ratios should be set locally. We will be announcing more on our plans to guide staffing decisions in our full response to the Francis report later this autumn. Overall, the number of clinical staff in the NHS has increased by nearly 4,100 and the number of admin staff has fallen by 22,800. The chief inspector of hospitals will be able to take action if trusts are found to be compromising patient care by not having the right number of staff on wards.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: “This report shines a spotlight on the true extent of understaffing in the NHS. David Cameron has left the NHS facing an A&E crisis with thousands fewer nurses. We should be bringing on the next generation of British nurses, but he’s cutting trainee nurse posts whilst wasting money on overseas recruitment.”
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