• More than 8 per cent of total posts vacant
  • One in 10 nursing posts vacant
  • Particular shortages in London and mental health

More than 8 per cent of posts in NHS trusts are vacant, including one in 10 nursing roles, according to figures reported for the first time today.

NHS Improvement’s quarterly performance report reveals there were 97,453 whole time equivalent vacancies in the third quarter of 2017-18 – 8.4 per cent of total posts. In quarter two, the vacancy rate was 8.7 per cent and in quarter one, 9 per cent.

Janet Davies

Janet Davies called for ‘safe and effective staffing levels in legislation’

NHSI’s report on finance and performance for the first three quarters of the year said that although vacancies were being managed by the “recruitment of substantive staff and effective use of temporary staffing”, they “continue to have an impact on performance”.

The data said there were almost 36,000 nursing vacancies in quarter three – 10.3 per cent of the total. HSJ reported in December that the figure could be as high as 42,000.

NHSI said 90-95 per cent of the nursing vacancies were being covered by a combination of bank and agency staff.

There are particularly high vacancy rates in some regions – for nurses in London 14.4 per cent of posts were unfilled in quarter three, and for mental health trusts in the capital the figure was 16.7 per cent.

There were almost 10,000 medical vacancies in the third quarter. The highest regional rate for doctors – 9.8 per cent – was in the Midlands and East.

Almost half the total vacancies (51,942) were in the category “other staff”, which covers all groups except registered nurses and doctors.

The NHSI report said: “The vacancy reduction observed since quarter two is an outcome of expected substantive recruitment from month six. There has also been a notable reduction in agency staffing over to bank with the ambition to see this consequently move to a more sustainable substantive staffing model in the future.

“There is significant regional and sector vacancy variation with the London region and the mental health sector having the highest numbers proportionately.”

Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said the vacancy figures “shine a spotlight on the size of workforce shortages NHS trusts are having to cope with”.

She added: “Trust leaders tell us that having one in 11 posts vacant makes it much more difficult to provide high quality care.

“It also means the continued progress trusts are making in reducing the amount of money they are spending on agency staff looks even more impressive.”

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report put official figures on nurse shortages in the public domain for the first time.

She said: “Immediate action to reverse this situation must begin with ministers dropping plans to remove bursaries from postgraduate nursing students and instead introducing new grants and an overdue national campaign to boost student numbers.

“Only by setting safe and effective staffing levels in legislation, in every part of the UK, can standards of patient care rise significantly too.”

Revealed: 58 trusts admit they will miss financial plan