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NHS hospitals unable to fill thousands of vacant posts, Labour says

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/19/nhs-hospitals-unable-fill-thousands-vacant-posts-labour-says

By: Health policy editor

Understaffing so acute almost one in four posts at some trusts in England are vacant, freedom of information requests show

The NHS is short of more than 100,000 staff, and some hospitals are struggling to fill as many as 1,600 vacancies, according to new research that has sparked fresh fears about patient safety.

NHS understaffing is so acute that almost one in four posts at some trusts are lying vacant, freedom of information requests by the Labour party show. The vacancy rate has risen over the last year.

Shortages of hospital and community-based doctors, and also nurses, are worsening, according to figures from 82 (36%) of the 229 NHS trusts in England.

Between them the 82 trusts had 35,993 unfilled full-time equivalent posts, representing a 9% vacancy rate. If that figure was replicated across all 229 trusts then the NHS as a whole would be short of 100,517 staff, Labour said.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ trust in London had the highest number of vacancies on 31 March – 1,610, which is 10% of its overall workforce. Four other trusts also had more than 1,000 unfilled posts, including Central Manchester University hospitals (1,304), Heart of England in Birmingham (1,236) and London’s Royal Free (1,225).

However, South London and the Maudsley trust – the NHS’s biggest provider of mental health services – has by far the highest proportion of missing personnel across the health service. Its 1,258 unfilled posts represent a 23% vacancy rate.

“This analysis pulls back the curtain on the state of staffing in the NHS this winter. Despite ministers’ rhetoric on the importance of safety, it will enter a perilous January without enough staff to give safe care,” said Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Labour estimates, based on the figures, that the NHS is short of 42,855 nurses, 11,187 doctors to work in hospitals or community services and 12,219 nurse support workers.

Mental health services are experiencing some of the worst understaffing, raising question marks over NHS and ministerial pledges to boost the workforce by 21,000 by 2022. Vacancy rates are running at 22% (362 posts) at North Essex trust and 17% (572) at Sussex partnership trust.

“For years the government has failed to ensure enough new recruits coming through in key specialities, while failed policy decisions like the NHS pay cap and the ending of the NHS bursary have contributed to a growing crisis,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

Trusts are having to spend £3bn a year on agency and other temporary staff because of workforce shortages they did not create, he added.

The NHS overall is short by 12.2% of registered nurses, a slight (0.8%) increase on last year. But South London and Maudsley trust is operating with a shortage of 493 nurses – a 28% vacancy rate. North Essex partnership trust has the same proportion, while at Hillingdon hospitals trust in London it is 26%.

Norfolk community health and care trust has a vacancy rate of 40% among its doctors. Doncaster and Bassetlaw acute hospital trust is short of 174 of nurses, or one in four of its nursing workforce.