Hospitals across the West could face a shortage of hundreds of qualified nurses and midwives within a couple of years unless major recruitment drives happen overseas.
Some hospitals are already searching Ireland and the Continent for trained nurses, while others are launching recruitment drives in a bid to stave off the impending shortages. A Government report presented to the Department of Health warned that unless thousands more nurses were trained up by 2016, a worst-case scenario would be that there could be a shortage of as many as 180,000 nurses and midwives across the country.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that a ‘perfect storm’ is brewing in the next five years. It says a generation of nurses are about to hit retirement age but NHS cuts, falling pay, fewer training opportunities and an ageing population that puts more pressure on hospitals, means there will be an ever-growing gap between the supply of newly qualified nurses, and demand from hospitals.
In the West, most hospitals are experiencing some form of nursing shortage. Some have gone through major long-term recruitment drives, like the Royal United Hospital in Bath last year, while others are struggling to recruit enough midwives and qualified nurses.
The Great Western Hospital in Swindon – told earlier this year by Government inspectors to increase its numbers of nurses and midwives – has advertised widely to fill 190 vacancies, but has only had 90 applicants, mostly trainees.
In Cheltenham, a nursing shortage has been blamed by bosses for a change in the way emergency services are provided, with some provision shifting to Gloucester – sparking fears and claims among health campaigners and politicians in the county that A&E provision is being switched to Gloucester in the long-term. In Somerset, the Musgrove Park hospital in Yeovil held a major recruitment day this week in a bid to get ahead of the forecast nursing shortage, while other hospitals in the West, notably Plymouth Hospital, are casting their net further afield – to Belfast, Dublin and Lisbon – for qualified nurses.
At the GWH in Swindon, bosses admitted yesterday they were struggling to fill vacancies. “The 71 qualified nursing and midwifery vacancies are the cause for concern,” said Oonagh Fitzgerald, the hospital’s director of workforce and education. “We’re struggling to reduce this number of vacancies as turnover is balancing new entrants to the organisation.”
A recent Royal College of Nursing report said one of the main causes of the problem was that one in three nurses were over 50, with insufficient numbers coming into the profession.
“It’s becoming clearer NHS nurse staffing levels in England are likely to reduce significantly over the next five to ten years, if current policies and trends continue,” says the RCN report, by Prof David Green, from one of the leading teaching hospitals in the country, in Worcester. “We know we risk a nursing shortage and failure to deal with it now will lead to a failure to improve healthcare.”
Even at some West hospitals which have already seen major recruitment drives in the past 12 months, hospital bosses admit they need to continually work on the problem. “The RUH has run a number of successful recruitment campaigns during 2012,” said a spokesman for the Royal United in Bath. “This year we’re planning to invest in more nursing posts as part of our ongoing ‘Proud to be a Nurse campaign’ and will be holding an open day on June 8 for those interested in working for the RUH.”