More needs to be done to make sure important emergency nursing jobs within NHS hospitals are consistently filled, according to a new report.
Conducted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the study is the latest reminder of the crucial role that emergency care nursing continues to play within the healthcare system, despite recent changes to the structure of NHS care.
The government's response to the findings will be important, as it could lead to the creation of the additional A&E jobs that are necessary to uphold the high standard of care associated with the NHS.
The current staffing shortfall
The RCN's research was based on a sample of 31 trusts with type one emergency departments and is thought to be representative of the current situation across England. It revealed a large difference between funded numbers of staff and the actual quantity of staff in post, with 17.5 per cent of full-time registered nursing posts not currently permanently filled.
Although around half of these vacancies are being filled by temporary nursing staff, a gap of 8.5 per cent still persists. This raises the risk that the number of medical professionals available will not be sufficient to meet patient demand during busy periods.
The RCN also raised concerns about the high use of temporary nurse and support worker staffing to fill the gaps, with the highest proportion of temporary workers being in the healthcare support workforce, where they made up nearly 20 per cent of the overall total.
Although bank, agency and overtime workers play a valuable role in providing NHS care, it is important to ensure that permanent staffing levels are maintained at appropriate levels, as they will possess the specialist skills required for these roles.
What is to be done?
The RCN believes the trends it has highlighted are indicative of an immediate need for corrective action, particularly when considered alongside evidence given by frontline workers.
In the past year, the organisation has held emergency care summits in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding that A&E nurses' most frequently raised concerns surrounded staffing levels and the need for better access to specialist training.
Although the government is currently focused on moving the focus of NHS care provision away from emergency care to more preventative community-based approaches, A&E departments will always have an essential role to play in saving the lives of those in greatest need of urgent treatment.
This need was acknowledged by the Department of Health's efforts to create additional emergency care capacity over the busy winter period, but a similar commitment to creating jobs and maintaining staffing levels is necessary throughout the year in order to ensure the needs of patients are always being met.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "Emergency nursing is a challenging role requiring a number of qualities and skills. Improving A&E workforce planning and education commissioning is crucial so that departments have enough nursing staff with the right mix of skills, including more nurses with specialist qualifications in emergency care."
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