Nurses shortfall reaches 18,000

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National Health Service hospitals are facing a shortage of nurses which is posing the biggest current threat to standards of care, the Royal College of Nursing said yesterday. At least 18,000 nursing jobs are vacant, with key areas such as intensive care worst hit.

Speaking on the eve of the college's annual conference in Harrogate, Christine Hancock, RCN general secretary, said nurses had been repelled by the commercialism of the internal market and welcomed the Government's plans to dismantle it. Shortages were "currently the biggest threat to the health service, especially in all our major cities", she said, adding that attracting nurses back depended on conditions such as childcare arrangements and shift patterns as much as pay. "The NHS is one of the worst employers in terms of flexibility," she said.