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NHS England has one in 11 posts unfilled

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Shortage of almost 100,000 staff is affecting performance, says NHS Improvement

One in 11 posts in NHS England are currently unfilled, equivalent to almost 100,000 vacancies, official figures show.

The number of vacancies was published for the first time in NHS Improvement’s quarterly performance report for the three months ending 31 December. Released on Wednesday, the report warns that staff shortages are affecting performance.

The high number of unfilled posts has coincided with the NHS coming under immense pressure, with 250,000 more people visiting A&E than in the equivalent three-month period in 2016.

NHS providers reported a year-to-date deficit of £1.3bn, moving NHS Improvement to revise its estimate of the year-end deficit to £931m, 88% worse than planned.

Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said: “These figures show how the NHS has been pushed to the limit.

“Despite working at full stretch with around 100,000 vacancies and a real risk of staff burnout, and despite treating 6% more emergency patients year on year in December, trusts cannot close the gap between what they are being asked to deliver and the funding available.

“The figures confirm, once again, three key problems the whole NHS provider sector is facing: increases in demand for treatment continue to significantly outstrip increases in NHS funding, trust savings targets remain too ambitious and there are serious ongoing workforce shortages.”

The vacancy rate was even worse for nursing, with 10.3% of posts unfilled. There were at least 35,835 full-time equivalent nursing posts vacant, of which 35% were filled by agency staff and 65% by bank staff – people already employed by the provider who offer to work flexibly.

Janet Davies, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said ministers needed to scrap plans to remove bursaries from postgraduate nursing students, and give existing staff a “meaningful” pay rise.

“This release puts official figures on nurse shortages in the public domain for the first time,” she said. “The accompanying figures on the parlous state of NHS finances do not provide cover to raid nurse numbers even further. They are instead a timely prompt for Philip Hammond ahead of his spring statement next month.

“All the evidence shows that standards of patient care rise and fall as nurse numbers do. That was the lesson from Mid Staffordshire and we cannot afford to forget it.”

Among other medical staff, the vacancy rate was 7.9%. There were 9,676 full-time equivalent vacancies, with 35% of those filled by agency staff and 65% by bank staff.

NHS Improvement said providers had succeeded in meeting more patients within key operational standards than previously during “the start of one of the most challenging winter periods that the NHS has had”.

Its chief executive, Ian Dalton, said: “Local health systems need to work together to plan for capacity in future years that can meet the increasing levels of demand that we will continue to see.”

A spokeswoman at the Department of Health and Social Care said: “There are currently record numbers of staff working in the NHS and the vast majority of vacancies are filled by bank and agency staff, so patient care is not compromised. We are supporting staff to improve work-life balance by working more flexibly and have announced the biggest ever expansion of training places for both doctors and nurses.”