NURSING vacancies in Wales are at critical levels, a union has said.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales has published a briefing on the state of the current nursing workforce in Wales.

The study found evidence of the nursing shortage in the NHS and the independent sector to be stark, with at least 1651 nursing vacancies across the NHS in Wales and care homes providers reporting significant gaps in their registered nursing workforce.

HS Wales spent £63.8m on agency nursing in 2018/19, a rise of 24% since last year. This is the equivalent salary spend of 2,635 newly qualified nurses. In October 2018 Social Care Wales published a workforce data collection from 2017 This states that the vacancy rate for registered nurses are as high as 25% in some areas.

Helen Whyley, director RCN in Wales, said: “The Welsh NHS continues to rely on the goodwill of registered nurses. Our members have said that 76% of them are working work overtime at least once a week, with a majority reporting between one and four hours.

"Worryingly only 50% of them being paid for these extra hours. Nurses are overworked and under pressure, I am very concerned that this continued pressure will result in burn out and ultimately nurses leaving nursing.

“The lack of adequate nursing staff is a real threat to the NHS in Wales ability to meet the requirements of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, the first legislation of its kind in Europe that seeks to ensure sufficient nurses to care for patient sensitively. Wales needs more registered nurses to deliver that care, and it needs to plan ahead to ensure the numbers are increased in both the short and the long term. This means continuing to increase student nursing numbers and urgent measures to safeguard international recruitment and address retention.”

Mrs Whyley recommends number of measures the Welsh Government should take to address the shortage of registered nurses in the NHS and independent sector.

These include increasing opportunities for nurses to work more flexible, providing access to continuous professional development (CPD) and strong career frameworks.

She added: "The Welsh Government needs to consider our report and embrace its recommendations to ensure that the significant contribution nursing can make to their ‘Healthier Wales’ policy are realised."