A “deeply disturbing” surge in advertised vacancies for NHS jobs, including thousands of nurses and midwives, has been blamed on Brexit and low pay.
It has been revealed there were 30,613 vacancies advertised in March 2017 on NHS Jobs, the main recruitment website, up from 26,424 a year before.
Nurses and midwife positions accounted for 38% of the vacancies - 11,485.
The union Unite said the “very disturbing” rise was due to a “perfect storm” of Brexit, the pay cap on public sector workers and NHS reorganisations that have demoralised staff.
“The government’s failure, so far, to come to an agreement on EU nationals staying in a post-Brexit UK is leading to vital EU workers in the NHS to vote with their feet,” Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said.
“The three main factors that need to be urgently addressed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt are the harsh pay austerity regime, the impact of Brexit on the estimated 55,000 EU nationals working for the NHS and the obsession with constant reorganisation.”
A Royal College of Nursing (RCN) spokesman told HuffPost UK the actual number of vacancies was likely to be much higher as vacancies can be advertised elsewhere, such as the medical trade press.
He added each advert could be for more than one position.
“The true number of unfilled jobs is far higher than the number of online adverts and stands at 40,000 in England alone,” Janet Davies, the RCN’s chief executive, said.
“This is a double whammy of bad news for nursing. At the very moment the NHS needs to be recruiting more nursing staff, we learn the number is falling and the NHS finds itself advertising for more jobs we know it cannot fill.”
“A lethal cocktail of factors is resulting in too few nurses and patient care is suffering. The Government desperately needs to keep the experienced staff still working in the NHS.”
Like Unite, the RCN called for the pay cap that limits public sector workers’ pay rises to 1% a year to be abolished.
Davies added: “More people are leaving nursing than joining - deterred by low pay, relentless pressure and new training costs. For the sake of patient safety, the Chancellor must scrap the cap on pay and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs.
“The Government is holding pay below inflation and inflicting a real terms pay cut worth £3,000 per year. Too many now feel no alternative but to leave nursing.
“Theresa May must draw a line under this false economy and address safe staffing levels in law.”
The figures about vacancies were issued as Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, warned Brexit posed a “threat” to NHS recruitment.
“There is no doubt that the workforce of the NHS and indeed the care system generally is absolutely critical and we do need to have more staff,” he told The Today Programme on Tuesday.
“If we are leaving the EU there is a threat to that, which we need to make sure is being dealt with so that we are not losing staff and we can then replace them if necessary to grow our own, if you like.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna emphasised the impact Brexit had on EU citizens applying to be NHS nurses.
A Department of Health spokesperson said in response: “Staffing is a priority - that’s why we have invested in the frontline and there are almost 32,400 more professionally qualified clinical staff including almost 11,800 more doctors, and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.”