NURSING leaders have called for more Government investment in training after a survey found that 462 nursing posts in five North-East hospital trusts were unfilled.

The survey by the Royal College of Nursing , based on Freedom of Information Act requests, also found that 106 health care assistant posts were unfilled at two North-East hospital trusts.

The worst affected trust was the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, which said it had 194 full time equivalent posts for qualified nursing staff at band 5 and above which were unfilled.

The same trust revealed it had 105 FTE health care assistant posts unfilled, representing one in ten of all HCA posts at the trust, which runs hospitals in Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland and Shotley Bridge.

The second-largest number of vacancies was at the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, which said it had 163 unfilled nursing vacancies.

Elsewhere, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust admitted it had 54 unfilled nursing vacancies.

North and Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust had 29 unfilled nursing vacancies and 1.8 FTE unfilled HCA vacancies.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in North Tyneside and Hexham, has 24 nursing vacancies at band 5 and above.

Glen Turp, regional director of the RCN said: “These new figures show that the Government is failing to ensure sufficient nurses are trained and retained in the North-East. NHS trust management are trying their very best to fill posts and retain staff running ongoing recruitment campaigns, but without sufficient resources coming in from central Government, it is frankly making the task impossible.”

Mr Turp said the tragedy at the Mid Staffordshire Trust illustrated that without sufficient nurses and health care assistants, the quality of care can be compromised.

“It is absolutely vital, therefore, that the Government starts funding sufficient extra places at our local universities as a matter of urgency, so that we have a big enough pool of talent to meet future demands on the service.”

A spokeswoman for the County Durham and Darlington Trust said: “This is an issue being faced nationally by trusts against an increase in service demands and a shortage of nursing staff. The figures also reflect our desire to increase our nursing establishment. We are currently running a vigorous recruitment campaign to actively recruit against our nursing vacancies and reduce any agency cost.”

Director of nursing at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Ruth Holt said: “Over the past 18 months we have been actively trying to recruit more band five nurses. While these have been successful in recruiting a number of staff, we still see a shortfall in excess of 70 band five posts. The shortage of this grade of nursing has been identified as a national issue.”