The must read stories and talking points from Monday

Extent of nursing vacancies revealed

There are at least 36,000 vacancies for registered nurses in the English NHS, according to a new official analysis which has provided the first accurate picture of the issue for several years.

NHS Improvement has told HSJ it has been collecting monthly information from trusts since April 2017 and cross referencing the figures with other centrally held data sets to draw up the most accurate picture of nursing vacancies affecting the NHS. 

The regulator has been asking trusts to provide vacancy data as part of their monthly returns. Officials have compared trusts’ reports to their annual operating plans, actual staff in post, and the financial returns to provide an upper and lower limit of vacancies.

The results show the NHS has at least 36,000 full-time equivalent nursing vacancies but the number could be as high as 42,000.

NHS trusts used to be required to submit vacancy data as part of official statistics but this has not been the case for several years.

Health Education England chief executive Ian Cumming told MPs last week: “We would like to reinstate a data collection around is what the actual number of vacancies are for nurses at the moment. We have data collections that we undertake, we have data collections that colleagues in NHSI undertake, but the formal collection of data relating to vacant posts in the NHS was stopped a number of years ago.”

Chuntering over funding

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said talks are ongoing over funding for a much vaunted national plan to address the emergency care workforce, despite national officials saying it has already been agreed.

The strategy was launched last month jointly by NHS England, NHS Improvement, Health Education England and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, RCEM president Taj Hassan said funding negotiations were “ongoing” despite a recruitment for new trainees for the scheme due to start in January.

But a spokeswoman speaking for the three arm’s length bodies insisted “full funding” had been agreed “at the time of publishing the plan”. The ALBs however refused to say how much funding had been agreed.

Dr Hassan hailed the plan as the “most comprehensive workforce strategy the college has ever been involved in [in] our history” and praised the NHS arm length bodies for backing and developing the blueprint.

But the funding remained an area for further discussion, he said. “The problem is that it was done at pace and there are ongoing discussions about how we are going to fund this strategy. The commitment is there. Everyone is agreed that we need the money to make it happen, [but] that discussion is going on between Health Education England and NHS England.”