According to figures released by NHS Digital, more than 86,000 NHS posts were vacant in the first quarter of this year, which is an increase of almost 8,000 when compared to the same period last year.

UKIP’s Health Spokesman, Dr Julia Reid MEP, described the figures as “deeply concerning” but was quick to shut down those seeking to blame Brexit for the rise in vacant NHS posts.

Dr Reid, who has had an extensive career working as a research biochemist in the NHS, said: “Whilst the latest statistics highlight the fact that we have a genuine issue with recruitment and retention within the NHS at the moment, it is completely disingenuous to blame the problem on Brexit.

“One of the main reasons that the NHS is struggling to recruit enough front line NHS workers, such as nurses and midwives, is because we’re not training enough to begin with. Currently, we turn away tens of thousands of potential students due to the limited number of training placements available.  We should increase the number of placements immediately as it’s obvious we’re not training sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the NHS.

“However, to do this, we need to ensure that we have enough bright and promising students willing to train for a career in the NHS. Unfortunately, the number of applications for courses, such as nursing and midwifery, have plummeted since the Government scrapped the bursary scheme (which originally covered tuition and hospital accommodation costs). As a result of this, we’re now going to miss out on thousands of potential nurses, and allied health professionals, who will have been deterred from applying due to the enormous financial burden involved in training now.

“As for staff retention, we’re now seeing more midwives and nurses leaving the profession in the UK than joining it.  Increasingly, this is due to nurses, and other health care professionals, being overworked and underappreciated so they swell the ranks of agency staff. The Government’s refusal to scrap the 1% public sector pay cap has meant frontline NHS workers are now earning significantly less than they were five years ago due to the high levels of inflation. Lack of resources, staff shortages and increased work load effectively means that our health professionals are now expected to work even harder for less money. It’s no surprise that the NHS is haemorrhaging nurses and other health professionals and, with the current state of affairs, working for the NHS is becoming an increasingly less attractive option for young students considering their future careers.

“Despite these problems, we’re still fortunate enough to have plenty of experienced nurses and health professionals from countries such as Australia and New Zealand who want to come to work in our hospitals. They already speak our language, so employing people from countries such as these should be less complicated, right? So why does the NHS make it so difficult for them to come and work here?  The current process of registering as a nurse in the NHS can take up to a year and cost over £3,000. Furthermore, all applicants, regardless of their first language, are required to pass an English test, one that is often described by the applicants as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘difficult’. Such red tape only adds to the difficulty in filling the ever-increasing number of open NHS vacancies.

“Whilst it’s true that overseas doctors and other health care professionals have, for long time, provided a valuable contribution to the NHS, we shouldn’t take their willingness to work here for granted. If the Government continues in failing to address the issues contributing to poor recruitment and retention of health professionals in the UK, the NHS may soon find itself struggling to recruit and retain staff from overseas as well.”