NHS vacancies in England at ‘staggering’ new high as almost 10% of posts empty | NHS

The number of posts lying vacant across the NHS in England has reached a “staggering” record high of 132,139 – almost 10% of its entire workforce.

The total of unfilled posts jumped dramatically by the end of June from the 105,855 vacancies that existed three months earlier, quarterly personnel figures show.

NHS leaders said the huge number of empty posts, published today by NHS Digital, showed why the health service is in a state of deepening crisis, with patients facing long waits for almost every type of care amid growing concern among doctors that delays can lead to poorer outcomes and death.

The previous highest number of vacancies for full-time equivalent staff was 111,864, recorded at the end of June 2019.

The new number of vacant posts represent 9.7% of the NHS’s planned staffing levels – a new high. They are a significant increase on the 76,082 vacancies recorded as recently as March 2021.

“Today’s vacancy figures are staggering and further proof that the NHS simply doesn’t have enough staff to deliver everything being asked of it”, said Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents all health service trusts in England.

She added, “with nearly one in 10 posts in trusts in England now vacant and tens of thousands more right across the health and care system, many staff face unsustainable workloads and ‘burnout’”.

Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “These figures paint a bleak picture. A jump in nearly 30,000 staff vacancies – equivalent to the entire staffing of a large NHS hospital – show an alarming trend across the NHS of rising levels of vacancies.”

The headline total of 132,139 includes vacancies for 46,828 nurses – the highest number on record and a big increase on the 38,972 empty posts at the end of March. That represents a vacancy rate of 11.8%, the highest since the 12.1% seen in September 2019.

Pat Cullen, the acting general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Two weeks before we open our strike ballot, these stark figures reveal what is happening in England’s NHS – record numbers of unfilled nurse jobs and rising fast too.

“Ten of thousands of experienced nurses left last year at the very moment we cannot afford to lose a single professional, and patients pay a heavy price.”

There were also 10,582 vacancies for doctors at the end of June – a 7.3% rate.

London has 30,506 vacancies across the acute, ambulance, community, mental health and specialist care sectors – another record. That is 12.5%, or exactly one in eight, of the capital’s NHS workforce.

The capital has more vacancies in acute hospitals than any other region – more than 20,000. There are also 7,745 vacancies in mental health services in the city, meaning that almost one in six posts (16%) remain unfilled.

Cordery and Cullen both identified pay levels as a key reason the NHS was being confronted with such a rapidly escalating number of vacant positions.

“The government’s failure to fully fund this year’s below inflation pay awards, alongside ongoing concerns over punitive pension taxation for senior staff, will make it even harder to recruit and keep the health workers we so desperately need, which in turn will hugely impact on patients”, said Cordery.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are boosting NHS recruitment with almost 4,100 more doctors and over 9,600 more nurses working across the NHS compared to last year. However, the overall number of posts is increasing as we expand services to bust the Covid backlogs and provide the best possible care to patients.

“Since September 2019 we have recruited an additional 29,000 nurses and are on track to meet our target of recruiting 50,000 more nurses by 2024.

“We have also commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and retain more NHS staff and have launched a taskforce to drive up the recruitment of international staff into critical roles across the system this winter.”

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