Nurses' leaders warn 15,000 vacancies need to be filled

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Nursing leaders are warning that the Government will fail to meet its new targets for improving heart disease and cancer treatment unless it stops the drain of experienced nurses from the National Health Service.

Nursing leaders are warning that the Government will fail to meet its new targets for improving heart disease and cancer treatment unless it stops the drain of experienced nurses from the National Health Service.

The Royal College of Nursing, launching its evidence to the pay review body yesterday, said that although last year's pay increase for newly qualified nurses had improved recruitment it had done nothing to encourage experienced nurses to stay in the profession.

The RCN has found that almost three-quarters of nurses believe they could be paid more for less effort if they left nursing; better pay was the single most important factor that would help to keep experienced nurses. Only 15,000 nurses received the full pay award of 12 per cent last year, 70,000 received 8 per cent and the remaining 215,000 received 4.7 per cent. There are 15,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS, the most for more than a decade.

"The new Health Secretary will not be able to address his new targets on treating people with heart disease and cancer if the NHS can't hold on to experienced nurses," said Christine Hancock, the RCN general secretary. "You can't do cardiac surgery unless you have got intensive care nurses."

The survey, which was commissioned by the RCN, showed that experienced nurses in Grade E loved their jobs but were frustrated and felt under-valued.

More than 12,000 nurses leave the NHS every year, costing millions of pounds a year. "Even a 1 per cent reduction in the turnover of staff would save around £15m a year," said Steve Griffin, director of employment relations for the RCN.

He included lack of access to courses and problems with pay in the list of complaints, adding: "The E Grade is the one that suffered most and so the pay review body would be more than justified in giving some attention to this career grade."

But some experienced nurses have already had enough. Judith Middleton, a 26-year-old nurse from Kent, who has specialised in the treatment of intensive care patients, and works in London, has decided to leave the NHS after five years of service.

She is joining the Royal Navy as a nurse and will see her salary jump at least £5,000 from the £15,500 she is on now. She said that low morale, low pay and lack of career prospects had all contributed to her decision to leave. "I visited a military hospital and the difference in morale was huge," she said. "All the wards were fully staffed and it made a huge difference."

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