England’s accident and emergency departments are understaffed on average by nearly 10%, a survey has suggested.
The 101 out of 166 hospital trusts which responded to a BBC 5 live Freedom of Information request had 1,260 vacant posts.
The picture was worst in London, with the largest proportion of vacancies found in four trusts in the capital.
The Department of Health said A&E staffing was an ongoing problem, but action was being taken.
A&E services came under extreme pressure last winter and the government’s four-hour waiting time target was regularly breached.
This was partly as a result of more patients coming through the door, but also because of problems recruiting staff.
Mike Farrar: “We’ve seen unprecedented levels already this year and we simply have to plan now”
Permanent Staff ‘Difficult’
Up to 43% of posts were unfilled in Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.
It has A&Es on two sites, and indicated in its response that of the 302 staff it thinks it requires, it is short of 12 consultants, 41 doctors and 75 nurses
The trust’s chief executive, Averil Dongworth, said: “We are working hard to recruit more permanent staff to our emergency departments.
“With A&E consultants largely able to pick and choose their employer, this can make it difficult to attract permanent staff.”
The next three trusts with the largest proportion of vacant posts were Croydon Health Services, Ealing, and North West London Hospitals – but staffing shortages appear to be a nationwide issue.
Jennie Fecitt, lead nurse of campaign group Patients First, and an A&E nurse for 25 years, said this level of vacancies would have a “significant impact” on the safety and wellbeing of patients.
“A&E nurses are under horrendous pressure. They have got targets and short-staffing to consider. Some hospitals have got it right but they are few and far between,” she said.
Anna Soubry: “We inherited the system which unfortunately had been seriously underfunded by the last government.”
Separately, a nursing union poll found nine out of 10 nurses working in acute and emergency care believed current pressures on A&E services were putting patients in danger.
The Royal College of Nursing, which has 410,000 members, said its survey had found that 89% of nursing staff thought the people they were meant to be caring for were being put at risk, while 85% said patient safety was being compromised by the strain on the departments.
More than three-quarters (79%) cited increased attendances at A&E as the reason for increased pressure, while 74% blamed inappropriate attendances at A&E where patients could have been treated by primary care services or by calling NHS 111.