Vacancy levels soar as one in every eight nursing jobs is now unfilled

There are now 43,593 unfilled nursing vacancies throughout the NHS in England.

James McKay
28 November 2019
Empty hospital

Patient care is being “genuinely compromised” as a result of unfilled nursing vacancies.

The number of nursing vacancies throughout the NHS in England is continuing to rise despite numerous promises of increased investment in nursing education, official figures show. 


Earlier this year official figures reported a record registered nurse vacancy level of 43,617 full-time equivalents – a figure that has now been revised to 44,070.

Today’s figure for quarter two of 2019/20 show 43,593 vacancies – meaning one in every eight jobs throughout the NHS in England are now vacent.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that patient care is being “genuinely compromised” as a result of these vacancies and the Health Foundation, an independent health think tank, issued the stark warning that this figure could double in the next five years without immediate action.

The news comes within only hours of the publication of a survey that found the majority of nursing staff feel they are ‘overworked and underpaid’.


Care is compromised.

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s Director for England, said:  “Nursing staff want to deliver the best for patients, but have one arm tied behind their back in trying to maintain standards.

“[Nurses] 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.

“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.”


Double in five years.

Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Today’s figures are a further reminder of the growing workforce crisis that threatens patient care, with 1 in 8 nursing posts vacant across the NHS.

“Nurses play a critical role in the health service and without concerted action, the number of unfilled nursing posts could double over the next 5 years. The NHS in England is struggling to train and recruit enough nurses and hospitals are increasingly reliant on unqualified support staff to bridge the gap.

‘The next government needs to ensure that we train more nurses and to do that it will have to address the financial problems that trainee nurses currently face. But training new nurses takes time and over the next few years, international recruitment is the only way to fill the gaps – we will need at least 5,000 nurses from other countries each year for the next 5 years.

“The incoming government must ensure that migration policy is not a barrier to achieving this.’

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