South London’s hospitals have among the worst nurses’ vacancy rates in the country, according to the latest figures.
The overstretched NHS south of the Thames is short of more than 3,238 nurses – and the figure has prompted calls to force health chiefs to fill them.
That amounts to 15 per cent of the total hospital workforce in the area – and a 10th of the 30,224 total vacancies across the country.
Only north-west London, with fractionally more vacancies, and north-east London, with 18 per unfilled jobs, have more in the whole of the UK. The Royal College of Nursing, which conducted the survey, has called on the government to impose minimum staffing levels in hospitals – and for that to be enshrined in law.
The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) sent to all London NHS Trusts, show the number of vacant nursing posts in the capital is now at 12,719, up from 10,140 in 2015 – an increase of 25 per cent.
One in six of London’s nursing posts are vacant. Nationally, the FOIs reveal a bleak picture in particular care settings, with the nursing workforce in community services down by 14 per cent (5,178 posts) since May 2010 and mental health and learning disabilities services seeing cuts to posts of 12 per cent (4,759) and 33 per cent (1,695) respectively.
As nursing vacancies continue to rise, the FOIs also show that trusts planned to use a greater proportion of nursing support staff in 2016, than a year earlier.
One nurse, who did not want to be named, who works in hospitals all over South London, said: “It is a nightmare on wards at the moment. “Every day, staff are trying to do the job of two people. It is not sustainable. It is no wonder people get burned out and leave the profession. Nurse retention is very bad.
“It is very hard to give the care we want to give. “But it is the patients I feel sorry for. They all have medical, clinical and psychological needs – but patient-to-nurse ratios are so bad, nurses are exhausted, overworked and under paid.
“Now that the government has cut the pay of agency staff, hospitals can’t get back-up nurses to fill the gaps.
“If politicians spent just a single day on a regular ward, they would understand why we are so upset at the levels of staffing and the low pay.”
RCN London Regional Director, Bernell Bussue, said: “London is now in the grip of its worst ever nurse shortage which left unchecked will continue to overstretch an already overburdened workforce and damage patient care.
“An aging workforce, lack of strategic workforce planning, cuts to NHS funding, harsh pay restraint and the failure to guarantee the rights of EU nurses has left London’s care settings more vulnerable than anywhere else in the country to registered nurse shortages.
“Nurses are going above and beyond to protect patient care, and despite the best efforts of nursing leaders and employers engaged in collaborative workforce projects such as Capital Nurse, London now accounts for a third of all national nurse vacancies.
“Good patient care relies on having enough nurses, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.
“The next government must make these principles the focus of its efforts by giving nurses a decent pay rise, enshrining safe staffing levels in law and giving employers the resources to employ the numbers of nurses they need.”