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Hospitals `facing nurse shortage'

Unemployment among nurses is at the lowest level for more than a decade, and hospitals are facing a serious shortage of staff unless the Government increases the number of trainees, the Royal College of Nursing warned yesterday.

More than 60 per cent of newly-qualified nurses are in jobs within three months of qualifying, and employers face an "ever tightening" labour market. Nurse unemployment overall has fallen to 1.7 per cent.

However, the RCN also said that the introduction of fixed-term contracts by trust hospitals was causing nurses to see their NHS careers as short term and "constantly under threat."

Between 1983 and 1997 there will have been a 55 per cent cutback in the number of students being trained, according to the RCN survey published today. The survey looked at nurses who qualified between 1992 and 1994, and found that more than 70 per cent of the qualifiers now have permanent jobs.

But the RCN says that job security is a concern, with a trend towards fixed-term contracts for nurses' first jobs up from 15 per cent in 1992 to 60 per cent of the total in 1994. This is a direct result of the NHS internal market where trusts do not knowfrom year to year if their contracts with purchasers will be renewed, the college said.

One-quarter of newly-qualified nurses have additional jobs, the survey found, compared with 17 per cent in a survey of experienced nurses carried out last year by the college. Turnover among qualified NHS staff has risen from 12 per cent in 1992-93 to 19per cent in 1993-1994.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the RCN, said: "This survey challenges the widely held belief that newly qualified nurses are unable to get jobs. How many more indications do we need that a national overview of recruitment planning and pay for nurses is essential?"