SOARING nurse vacancy rates have almost doubled in a year and are continuing to rise despite an overseas recruitment campaign.

Between October 2016 and October 2017 vacancy rate for nurses went from 5.99 per cent to 10.8 per cent at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH).

It means more than one-in-10 roles – 400 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts – were unfilled in October 2017.

The rate, which includes registered nurses, midwives and nursing support workers, has carried on climbing and is now stands at 11.7 per cent.

Many of these posts are filled by bank and agency staff, often more expensive than their NHS counterparts.

In July, 70 per cent of WTE vacancies were filled this way.

Joan Stewart, who is part of action group Keep Our NHS Public, obtained the figures via a Freedom of Information request put in to the trust by Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds on her behalf.

She said: “It’s appalling but not surprising that the figures are as bad as they are.

"People talk about a winter crisis but this suggests we are heading towards an around the clock crisis."

A wide range of questions were raised in the FoI request, including how the trust planned to stop high vacancy rates, high bed occupancy and bed closures, as well as a comparison with previous years.

The trust also revealed its hospitals, which include the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and the Horton General Hospital in Banbury, had been operating at a 96 per cent occupancy rate over the winter, far above the 85 per cent recommended to ensure patient safety.

Ms Dodds described the figures as 'disturbing' and said: "No doubt they would have been worse without the action the trust has taken to try and increase recruitment and retain staff already in post.

"Obviously Brexit is also a concern given the high number of EU staff at the trust.

"I know from talking to local NHS staff that the cap on pay for NHS staff is really biting, especially here in Oxford where housing and living costs are so high.

"We really need to see action now to lift staff pay."

The concerns were echoed by Jane Febers, Royal College of Nursing senior officer for Oxfordshire, who said: “These figures highlight the very real crisis in recruiting nurses.

“Despite the best efforts of OUH, nurses are not coming forward because they need the government to award them an above inflation pay rise, support more people to access nursing training places and increase funding for NHS services.

"We know that Oxford is one of the most expensive places in England to live which adds another barrier for the NHS in Oxford.

“Replacing the bursary with fees has put off another generation of potential nursing recruits which means safe staffing levels are unsustainable and detrimental to patient care."

She added that unless 'radical action' was taken the problems would continue.

To try to plug the gap OUH announced last year it was turning overseas, heading to India, Europe and the Philippines to recruit.

Sam Foster, chief nurse at the trust, insisted this would start to have a noticeable impact.

She said: “We have made approximately 350 initial job offers to overseas nurses as a result of international recruitment trips in recent months to India, the Philippines, Spain, and Italy.

“Typically we would expect 40-60 per cent of these offers to be converted into formal job offers so we hope 150-200 new nurses will join OUH over the coming months.

"So far three nurses from India and 15 nurses from Italy have already joined the trust and we expect approximately 20 overseas nurses to join the trust each month from now on."

OUH currently has 85 nursing vacancies listed on its website, up from 70 in November.