Byline: BEEZY MARSH
STAFF shortages have left NHS nursing on the critical list, despite claims that life on the wards is improving.
Wards are struggling with staff vacancy rates of up to 20 per cent and almost one in ten nurses are brought in from private agencies, surveys have found.
An influx of foreign recruits is simply plugging the gap, rather than providing a long-term solution.
Damning surveys released yesterday by the Royal College of Nursing showed the number of nurses registered to work in Britain since 1998 would have remained static without the surge of recruits from overseas.
Dr Beverly Malone, the college's general secretary, dismissed ministers' claims that the nursing crisis was easing and told the Royal College of Nursing annual conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, yesterday: 'The nursing shortage is nowhere near sorted. Ask any patient. Ask any nurse. We have to keep on blowing the whistle about the shortages and the risks to patient care for as long as it takes.' The surveys found medical wards have on average only one nurse more than in 1998. This is despite massive recruitment drives and Government claims to have recruited 40,000 more nurses since 1997.
Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which registers staff to work in Britain, suggest the number of foreign recruits in the year to March matched the number of newly-qualifying British staff.
About 14,000 were registered but massive backlogs in applications mean the final number is expected to mirror the 18,000 British recruits. …