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Nurse shortage now a crisis, says RCN

28 Nov 2019

The shortage of nurses in the Midlands is growing and has been declared as a full-blown crisis by the RCN.

Figures published today reveal the number of NHS vacancies for registered nurses in the Midlands was 8,416 at the end of September, a rise of 6.1% compared to the same point in 2018 when there were 7,931 empty posts.

The number of unfilled jobs for nurses in the NHS across the region represents 12.6% of the workforce – or one in eight posts. Some of the largest hospital trusts in the West Midlands have hundreds of nursing vacancies and have identified incidents of harm to patients as a direct consequence of being understaffed.

The RCN says the nurse shortage is putting the quality and safety of patient care at risk and leaving many nursing staff with unsustainably high workloads.

Ahead of the General Election, the College is calling on the next Government to make safe staffing levels in the NHS and other care settings a top priority.

Financial support

It wants to see £1bn a year in financial support for nursing students to be reinstated following the abolition of the NHS bursary in 2017 as well as a law that makes clear who is responsible nationally and locally for ensuring there are enough nurses.  

Mark Butler, Chair of the RCN’s West Midlands Board and a mental health nurse in Staffordshire, said: “There are more vacancies for nurses in the NHS this year than there have ever been because the supply in the last few years has been barely a trickle when, in fact, a cascade was needed to keep pace with the unprecedented demand on the NHS.

“Four years ago this month, in its Autumn Statement of 2015, the Government first signalled that NHS bursary would be abolished and tuition fees would be introduced for nursing students. 

“That reckless decision took effect in August 2017, supposedly to increase the size of the future nursing workforce, but it has backfired as we and others predicted it would. The number of students has gone down, not up, because, for too many, doing a nursing degree is now unaffordable.

'Compounded the crisis'

“The huge falls in the number of EU nurses coming to or staying in the UK since the 2016 referendum has compounded the crisis.”

The RCN has launched a public petition to try to force the incoming Government to fix the nurse shortage and supply problem.

Mr Butler added: “Time and again we hear bittersweet stories from patients and their families saying how grateful they are to nurses who looked after them even though they were rushed off their feet, but the really worrying thing is that poor staffing levels can mean care is left undone – for example, observations may not be completed on time and patients might not receive help to go to the bathroom or eat a meal as promptly as they need to. 

“The workload pressure has become intolerable and we need the public’s support to help us change things for the better, both for nursing staff and patients’ experiences and outcomes.”

Further reading

The statistics for the Midlands quoted were published on 28 November 2019 by NHS Digital. View the data set. The data is not published to West Midlands-specific level but includes vacancies reported by NHS trusts in the West Midlands.

Page last updated - 17/05/2021