About one in 10 full-time equivalent posts in the NHS in England were vacant at the end of June, the highest proportion since current records began in 2018, new figures show.
There were 132,139 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies across the health service, up sharply from 105,855 at the end of March, according to data from NHS Digital.
Vacancies had previously peaked at 111,864 in June 2019.
Performance figures show the NHS is struggling to cope with rising demand, with the number of patients waiting for routine hospital treatment at an all-time high and A&E and the ambulance service failing to hit key waiting times targets.
Experts have said the staffing crisis is one of the key factors fuelling these issues and have repeatedly called for a long-term workforce plan to tackle the gaps.
NHS Providers interim chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said that the Government’s failure to fully fund this year’s pay awards alongside concerns over pension taxation for senior staff will make it harder to recruit new staff.
She added: “Today’s vacancy figures are staggering and further proof that the NHS simply doesn’t have enough staff to deliver everything being asked of it.
“The situation we are in could have been avoided. Successive governments have failed to adequately train and recruit the workforce the NHS needs.
“Not investing in training is a false economy and is the underlying cause of many of the problems the health system currently faces.”
The latest data shows that in London, the equivalent of around one in eight (12.5%) FTE posts were vacant at the end of June, with a record 30,506 vacancies across acute, ambulance, community, mental health and specialist services.
Mental health services had the highest vacancy rate in the capital at 16.0%, with 7,745 vacancies.
But the highest number of vacancies across every region of England was in the acute sector, with more than 20,000 vacancies in London alone.
Vacancies across the NHS in England have been on a broadly upwards trend since March 2021, when the total stood at 76,082.
The new figures also show there were a record 46,828 FTE nursing vacancies in England at the end of June, representing a vacancy rate of 11.8% – the highest level since 12.1% in September 2019.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said the new prime minister must act fast to give nursing staff a fair pay award as part of tackling the “NHS crisis”.
She added: “Two weeks before we open our strike ballot, these stark figures reveal what is happening in England’s NHS – record numbers of unfilled nurse jobs, and rising fast too.
“Tens of thousands of experienced nurses left last year at the very moment we cannot afford to lose a single professional, and patients pay a heavy price.
“Nursing staff are burnt out and simply not valued by their employers and Government.
“Ministers choosing to hold their pay well below inflation in a cost-of-living crisis is making more reconsider their future. Rather than leave a fantastic profession, I am telling members that the time has come to vote for strike action this year – it is the best way to now get politicians to listen and show what we mean when we say ‘enough is enough’.”
The vacancy rate for medical roles stood at 7.3% at the end of June, the highest since 9.0% in June 2019.
Across England there were 10,582 FTE medical vacancies, with the Midlands region reporting the highest number at 2,328.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last month launched a consultation looking at possibly extending rules which were temporarily changed under coronavirus laws so staff could come out of retirement or increase their working commitments without having their pension benefits payments suspended.
The measures, which were introduced in March 2020 to encourage recent and partial retirees back to the front line during the pandemic, are currently set to run until October 31.
Health bosses said the consultation will ask the public and stakeholders whether the changes should be extended to March 31 2023 ahead of a “challenging” winter as the NHS faces Covid-related backlogs, staffing issues and more people coming forward for checks.
The consultation will run until September 12.
The DHSC said the Government is on track to deliver on its manifesto commitment to have 50,000 more nurses by 2024, with 29,000 more nurses recruited since September 2019.
A spokeswoman added: “We are boosting NHS recruitment with almost 4,100 more doctors and over 9,600 more nurses working across the NHS compared to last year.
“However, the overall number of posts is increasing as we expand services to bust the Covid backlogs and provide the best possible care to patients.
“We have also commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and retain more NHS staff and have launched a taskforce to drive up the recruitment of international staff into critical roles across the system this winter.”