NHS begs old nurses to come back, 12,500 needed.

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Older nurses who have quit the NHS are being urged back onto wards over concerns of desperate staffing shortages.

Officials are drawing up plans to try to entice back nurses who left ten or 20 years ago to start families or pursue different careers.

New figures show the NHS is short of 12,500 nursing posts with many hospitals struggling to recruit highly trained, senior staff.

The push for older nurses comes as critics say modern nursing training creates nurses with degrees who are ‘too posh to wash’ patients – although nursing unions fiercely reject the claim.

Concerns have also been raised that nurses with university degrees lack hands-on experience in care as they have spent too much time in the classroom.

Health Education England, the body in charge of recruitment, is preparing to launch a campaign to encourage back ex-nurses which is likely to include attractive pay-rates and flexible working.

Many of these nurses may not have worked in the NHS for more than 20 years having qualified in the 1980s – without a degree – and subsequently left to start a family.

Meanwhile a new report shows that 83 per cent of NHS trusts are short of nurses with the NHS estimated to be down on 12,566 posts over all.

A survey by NHS Employers – which represents managers – also shows that on average 1 in 10 posts are vacant at hospitals also at some having more than 100 are empty.

Professor Janice Stevens, managing director of Health Education West Midlands, who is overseeing the plans said: ‘Where trusts do have shortages of nurses, it is often those with experience that they need most.

‘Attracting nurses back to practice has the potential to address current shortages.

‘The next phase of our work will involve designing an efficient process to ensure the success of any campaign encouraging nurses to return to practice.

‘Preventing staff leaving is equally important and also requires focus and attention.’

Last week the NHS watchdog NICE recommended that all wards should have a minimum of one nurse for every patient otherwise safety will be put at risk.

But unions say this is simply un-achievable given the current shortage of nurses.

The NHS Employers report, published yesterday, also revealed that nearly half of hospitals have recruited nurses from abroad in the last 12 months including from Spain, Portugal and India.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘This is further evidence of the crisis in nurse numbers facing the NHS.

‘It is certainly positive that NHS organisations are now acknowledging the need for more nurses, but urgent action must be taken to address the current shortfalls in the nursing workforce.

‘One part of the solution should be to encourage registered nurses who no longer work in the NHS to return to practice. Bringing their skills and experience back to the health service can be a relatively quick and cost-effective means of plugging the gaps in staffing.

‘Such nurses are an invaluable resource for the NHS, but attracting them back into work will require the provision of dedicated support from employers.

‘There needs to be sufficient funding for return to practice programmes and suitable supervision and mentoring processes in place.’

Nurses who have not worked for a certain amount of time have to complete a return to practice course – usually run at universities – to ensure their skills are up to date.