THERE are more than 800 empty nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies across Hampshire's hospitals.

NHS England figures show that there are 842 vacancies across five hospitals in the county, in what has been described as a "worrying" figure.

Hospital bosses have said that they plan on "capitalising" on future recruitment campaigns, but add there has been a "significant interest" in positions within the NHS following the focus on the service during the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS England figures show there were 258 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) at the end of March, the latest period for which data is available.

Brenda Carter, interim assistant director of people at UHS, said: "Delivering safe and effective patient care is our absolute priority at UHS. Our recruitment drives both nationally and internationally, focus on getting the right staff for the positions we have available and who are able to embody our organisational values.

"We recognise the challenge we have in recruitment and that is why we attract staff through a range of routes including apprenticeships alongside developing partnerships with training providers both locally and nationally.

"Like other health care providers, UHS has had to manage organisational challenges to ensure our staff are protected and supported through the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the focus on the NHS during this time has resulting in significantly more interest in positions within the health profession and this will be something we are looking to capitalise on in future recruitment campaigns."

The figures also revealed there were 223 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and 159 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March.

At at Solent NHS Trust, there were 60 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies and 142 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust at the end of March.

Southampton Test MP, Alan Whitehead, said: "It is worrying that we have hundreds of nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies, especially as we go into what promises to be a difficult winter for our NHS.

"This has been a growing issue for a number of years and it is one that the government has not got a grip of. Although nursing bursaries were reinstated for those starting this year, the previous removal of them made a big impact on the amount of new nurses coming onto the job.

"We also face a lot of uncertainty around whether nurses from the EU will still come and work in the same number as they did before Brexit.

"The government needs to do more to help UHS fill these vacancies."

While nursing unions have welcomed the move, they say it does not go far enough and are calling for better pay, and for tuition fees for all nursing students to be scrapped.

They were among 4,725 unfilled roles across the South East.

The Government said its £172 million package will enable healthcare employers to take up to 2,000 apprentices every year – double the current number – for the next four years, which it says will help deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024-25.

Employers will get £8,300 per placement per year for both new and existing apprenticeships, which generally take four years and offer an alternative to university courses.

Mike Adams, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said the investment was a “welcome step”.

“It does, however, fall short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future, ensuring health and care services have the staff needed,” he added.

“The full-time three-year nursing degree remains the best way to increase domestic nursing supply at the scale and pace needed.

“The Government must abolish self-funded tuition fees for all nursing students as well as introducing universal living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need if it is truly committed to delivering the 50,000 more nurses they promised.”

Unison’s deputy head of health Helga Pile said a fair and consistent wage for nurses was also “essential”.

She added: “Unless this is sorted urgently, the NHS will struggle to attract apprentices in the first place.”