WORKFORCE: Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust is to launch a major national recruitment campaign after nursing staff levels were found to have fallen to critically low levels.

The staffing shortfall is revealed in the trust’s board papers which say that one in ten nursing posts are unfilled. Vacancy rates were of particular concern on its neuroscience wards.

Shortages were resulting in significant numbers of wards having fewer nurses than recommended for the “level and acuity” of workloads, the paper add.

“There is concern that the continued high vacancy rates and difficulties filling gaps in the rota with bank and agency staff may compromise the delivery of kind, safe and excellent care in future months,” they state.

The trust had been forced last month to increase rates of pay for bank staff to drive up its “fill rate for requests”

 “The impact of this will be reviewed and a decision made as to whether the increased costs are offset by reductions in agency use and the reduced risks arising from improved fill rates on staffing rotas”, the report said.

Karen Webb, the Royal College of Nursing’s eastern regional director, said nursing shortages, which had been building over the past couple of years, were now “coming to a head”.

The chief reason for shortages was the lack of opportunities for nurses to get involved in nursing research at the trust- despite its reputation at a “world-beating biomedical centre of excellence”, she added.

“If you’re the sort of nurse who wants to advance nursing knowledge and theory, you wouldn’t go to Cambridge University Hospitals,” she added.

Research funding was largely received by the University of Cambridge, which does not train nurses.

Cambridge’s nursing shortages were also a “direct consequence of the reduction in commissions for nurse education places over the last four years”, she added. This  was “causing havoc across the East of England”.

Nurses were also deterred by the Cambridge’s high living costs, with house prices in the city “way beyond the means of any nurse”, Ms Webb said.

A spokesman for the trust told HSJ: “As a large busy hospital trust we are constantly recruiting both nationally and internationally.”

“We are launching a major local and national recruitment campaign focusing on the great career opportunities available in the hospitals.

“We will continue to recruit from overseas in addition to local and national recruitment.”

The trust has employed 300 research nurses and in 2013 established a chair in clinical nursing research at the University of Cambridge to further develop its nursing research capacity.