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Records broken in new nurse vacancy data for England

Press Release 28/11/2019

Records broken in new nurse vacancy data for England

Today, new records are being set for the shortage of nurses in the NHS in England - the data is confirming that even previously reported record highs underestimated the scale of the problem (see Note 1). 

One in every eight nurse jobs is unfilled and in large swathes of southern England the shortage is biting even harder – across the country it now totals over 43,000.  (Note 2)

Patricia Marquis, RCN England Director, said: 

“Nursing staff want to deliver the best for patients, but have one arm tied behind their back in trying to maintain standards. They deliver the vast majority of patient care and a shortage of them is one of the single biggest challenges facing health and social care services, across which the real vacancy rate will be far larger. 

“Until this is solved, the public and patients are being short-changed and their care is genuinely compromised. 

“Our new survey of nurses across all settings today shows 6 in 10 feel unable to deliver the quality of care that they want to because of pressures on the frontline – with these figures, it is little wonder some nurses decide to up and leave. (Note 3)

“A new government must prioritise this challenge, and we are encouraged to see cross party intentions to do so. Whoever forms it, we will be holding them to account on election pledges for investing in educating, but also retaining, more registered nurses.  

"This must be planned in response to the health and care needs of the population with at least an extra £1 billion invested each year in England on tuition fees and living costs for nursing students. Our report makes clear what is currently driving people away from the nursing profession they love, and what politicians everywhere have an urgent responsibility to address.” 

Notes to Editors 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world. The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations.

For interview requests or more information, please contact the RCN press office at 020 7647 3633 or email 

1 - The provisional data released for quarter 1 2019/20 in August this year, reported a record registered nurse vacancy level of 43,617 full time equivalents. Today, this has been revised upwards to 44,070 due to incorporation of retrospective amendments submitted by providers.

Today’s figure for quarter 2 2019/20 is 43,593 - this compares to 42,679 in quarter 2 of the previous year, and 39,154 from quarter 2 in 2017.

Nursing Vacancy data

- Today’s figures confirm a vacancy rate of 12.1 per cent in England - which equates to 1 in 8 full time equivalent jobs. In London, this rises to 15.3 per cent. In the South East, this is 13.1 per cent.

Nursing Vacancy data

3 - The RCN Employment Survey has been conducted since 1986. Some questions have been retained throughout this period, allowing accurate comparisons of responses to be made over time.  Questions for the 2019 survey were sent to a selected sample of the RCN’s membership across the UK, with 8,311 responses received. As part of this publication, the RCN has produced ‘Voices from the Frontline’, which details the personal accounts of nursing staff from across the UK.

Key findings from the 2019 survey are:

  • 61 per cent of nursing staff say they are too busy to provide the level of care to patients that they would like, a significant increase from 43 per cent 10 years ago.  54 per cent say too much of their time is spent on non-nursing tasks such as paperwork
  • Six in 10 of those questioned say their pay band is inappropriate for the work they do, as it no longer reflects the level of education and training required to do their job, nor the stress, pressure and demands that 21st century nursing involves
  • The percentage of nurses who are happy with their working hours has dropped from 73 per cent in 2009 to 51 per cent this year
  • 29 per cent of nurses surveyed had suffered physical abuse from patients or relatives in the past year, while 65 per cent had experienced verbal abuse
  • Healthcare assistants reported increasingly being asked to take on the duties of registered nurses 

Press Office Contacts

Nick Spears, Senior Media Officer
020 7647 3696

Emma Laws, Media Officer
0207 647 3446

Michael Finlayson, Media Officer
020 7647 3459

Out of hours duty press officer
020 7647 3633