A stark warning has been issued over nursing, midwifery and health visitor shortages in Cumbria which, it is claimed, could put patient safety at risk.
The Royal College of Nursing claims official figures on frontline cuts drastically under-represent the real scale of the problem, due to the fact vacancy rates are no longer monitored by the government.
Data gathered by the union reveals that in Cumbria and the North East alone, 1,204 nursing vacancies remain.
A similar story exists nationally, with around 20,000 unfilled full-time equivalent (FTE) posts and an average trust vacancy rate of six per cent.
This is on top of the 3,859 FTE nursing, midwifery and health visitor cuts officially identified by the government since May 2010.
Glenn Turp, RCN regional director for the North East and Cumbria said: “Too often, we have seen junior staff, and unregistered staff, being asked to provide complex clinical care for patients.
In some cases trusts have been deliberately holding some vacancies open for long periods of time.
“While in some cases trusts are now responding to the Francis Inquiry by seeking to fill posts, we have examples in this region of more senior posts being replaced with junior posts, in an effort to save money. We also have examples locally of trusts reopening their Mutually Agreed Resignation Schemes, in a further drive to reduce staffing levels.”
The RCN’s Running the Red Light report, published today, also outlines a 12.7 per cent cut in the number of nursing student places commissioned since 2010/2011 and predicts a shortage of 47,000 registered nurses by 2016.
Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock says the national and regional picture re-emphasises the importance of monitoring crucial local services.
He said: “Maintaining staffing levels in maternity units is an absolutely vital part of ensuring that mothers and new babies are kept safe.
“These figures over cuts to maternity staffing nationally are therefore extremely worrying.
“With maternity staffing levels under threat across England, it becomes all the more essential that we fight for a fully-staffed, clinician-led unit at Furness General Hospital.”