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‘Too late’ to find nurses needed for ‘extremely challenging’ winter – with 40,000 vacancies

Written by on 7 November 2020

It is too late to find the nurses needed to meet the demands of an “extremely challenging” winter – with 40,000 vacancies in England alone, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

The union now called on the government to “be honest” about the risks a lack of staff could pose to patient safety.

It comes after NHS England moved its highest alert level to deal with COVID-19 cases after the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals rose to more than 11,000.

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NHS England moves to highest alert level

The RCN said it has “grave concerns” about how services will be safely staffed in winter as “it’s too late to find the nurses to meet the likely demand”.

“The government must be honest about widespread nursing vacancies and what steps need to be taken to keep patients and staff safe despite a depleted workforce,” the union said.

“When COVID-19 sickness absence is also considered, these gaps in the workforce put enormous responsibility on the nursing staff left working and an intolerable pressure on senior nursing leaders.

“The RCN is deeply concerned these few staff could ‘burn out’ this winter unless local staffing plans proposed by NHS England prioritise the safest, highest quality care.”

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RCN England director Mike Adams said the NHS “faces the prospect of an extremely challenging winter” and frontline nurses in hospitals, communities and care homes are “under huge strain”.

He said the union has heard that nurses are “becoming increasingly thinly spread on the ground” in some hospitals.

“The government says nurses have been given extra training to provide more critical care staff to treat COVID-19 patients, but there simply aren’t enough to go around,” Mr Adams added.

“There are around 40,000 registered nursing vacancies across the NHS in England alone.

“It is essential that learning is applied to planning for this winter, including what service can be delivered safely with the workforce available.”

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Virus ‘second wave’ stressing hospitals

Earlier this week, NHS England’s chief executive warned of a “serious situation ahead”, saying there were “22 hospitals’ worth” of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the country.

Sir Simon Stevens appeared alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference during which he assured sceptics that the second wave of the pandemic “is real and serious”.

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Sir Simon said around 30,000 staff in the health service were either off with coronavirus or having to self-isolate, and “that has an impact”.

The government has said there were 13,500 more nurses working in the NHS in England in the year to April 2020 than the previous 12 months.

Last year it pledged to recruit more than 50,000 nurses by 2025.