NHS vacancies in London are twice as high as the rest of England, despite more staff

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NHS vacancies in London are twice as high as the national average, despite concerted government efforts to boost the number of health staff working in the capital, says a new report published today by The King's Fund.

Trends in London's NHS Workforce welcomes the fact that London has an increasing number of NHS staff, but says many posts remain unfilled and long-term vacancy rates for some of these are twice as high as the rest of England. The latest Department of Health statistics show that the NHS in London reports a long term vacancy rate of five and a half per cent for qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors, compared to the rest of the country which has a vacancy rate of only 2.6 per cent.

The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'This is not about statistics, it's about Londoners receiving a raw deal. We are relying too heavily on temporary staff to plug permanent vacancies. This is simply unacceptable, as it has an impact on NHS staff morale and a potential knock-on effect for London's patients. We need to retain staff, develop their skills and build up a stable workforce.'

London has high staff turnover, many mobile health workers and heavier use of temporary staff than the rest of the country.

Report co-author Ruth Hutt said:

'Staff numbers have increased but health trusts may find it easier to fill new specialist posts before long-standing existing vacancies. The good news is that universities in London are training more students who live in London. This means London is improving its ability to 'grow its own' nurses, as in the past, most nurses came from outside London to train. More mature students are entering professional training and the government's Improving Working Lives initiative for child care provision appears to be having a real impact in attracting and retaining staff.'

Trends in London's NHS Workforce is calling on NHS trusts and London local authorities to collaborate in looking for ways to retain all staff, particularly hard-won international health care staff, in the face of growing international competition. Broader retention issues such as affordable accommodation, child care and transport for staff need to be addressed.

The King's Fund 2003 report In Capital Health? Creative solutions to London's NHS workforce challenges urged the NHS to accept London's workforce characteristics, and said that the way forward is to think creatively about how to manage them.

The increase in London's NHS workforce numbers is a definite improvement, but the continued high level of vacancies, particularly for GPs, points more than ever to a need for creative solutions for London's workforce problems.

Read the report: Trends in London's NHS workforce: an updated analysis of key data

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact Beverley Cohen on 020 7307 2632 or Michael Moruzzi on 020 7307 2585.

2. Trends in London's NHS Workforce: an updated analysis of key data by Ruth Hutt and Professor James Buchan is available for free downloading from Thursday, 3 March from our online bookshop. Hard copies are available from The King's Fund publications on 020 7307 2591.

3. In Capital Health? Creative solutions to London's NHS workforce challenges by Professor James Buchan, Belinda Finlayson and Pippa Gough was published in July 2003. The full report purchased from our online bookshop.

4. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.