CONCERNS have been raised about the high number of nursing vacancies in East Lancashire hospitals.

NHS data shows 1,037 vacant registered nursing and midwifery posts at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust (ELHT) were advertised between April 2017 and March this year.

ELHT said it strongly disputes the figures.

Data also shows there were 501 advertised vacancies at the county’s main mental health organisation Lancashire Care Foundation Trust and nine at North West Ambulance Service.

In the North West, there were 5,142 vacant registered nursing and midwifery posts advertised between January and March this year, up from 3,726 for the same period in 2016.

Cllr Brian Taylor, executive member for health and adult social care at Blackburn with Darwen Council, described the figures as ‘hair-raising’.

He said: “With such a shortage of nurses, the health service has to suffer.

“So the quicker they recruit more nurses the better.”

Nursing union Royal College of Nursing North West said the rise in vacancies in the region was a clear sign of the staff shortages and pressures in hospitals in the area.

Lancashire Care said it is part of a national retention programme with NHS Improvement, focusing on retaining the nurses that they do have and attracting new ones.

"As a result of this our turnover rate has reduced from over 14 per cent to under 10 per cent," said a spokesman.

Christine Pearson, director of nursing at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The trust strongly disputes the statistics released by NHS Digital which are factually incorrect and misrepresent the much lower number of nursing and midwifery vacancies at East Lancashire Hospitals.

“Despite a national shortage, we currently employ 2,318 registered nurses and midwives to care for patients at our five hospitals and in the community. As of today, we have 236 nursing and midwifery vacancies, more than we prefer but far less than the number reported by NHS Digital.

“The trust continues to successfully recruit nurses locally, nationally and internationally to ensure we maintain safe staffing levels on all our wards.

“In partnership with the University of Central Lancashire, we will be welcoming an extra 133 student nurses in January 2019 as they begin what we hope will be long and successful careers with us. This is our highest intake ever and brings the overall number of student nurses at the trust to 377.