HOSPITALS are so understaffed that senior nursing managers are having to work on wards.

Recruiting registered nurses is proving a major challenge for Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust.

There were 260 vacancies in April, despite a national and international recruitment drive, the trust board heard at its latest meeting.

To cut costs, the trust has stopped using agency staff at Royal Sussex County Hospital and has used fewer than ten a week at Princess Royal Hospital.

During the next four months, 40 Filipino nurses  are due to start work, the majority at Princess Royal.

Chief nurse Nicola Ranger said: “We are still a little reliant on overseas recruitment.

“Far fewer nurses are coming from Europe where we have had success before.”

To keep nurse-to-patient ratios at safe levels, senior nursing managers are working on the wards.

At night, more registered nurses are on duty along with significantly more healthcare assistants.

Staffing is discussed three times a day and adjusted when required to ensure a ratio of seven patients to each registered nurse, not including high-dependency wards.

Student nurse recruitment is also a problem, partly due to the low ranking of Brighton University’s nursing degree in league tables.

It is currently ranked 46th by the Complete Universities Guide, 57th by The Times and 67th by The Guardian, out of around 70 institutions.

Ms Ranger said it was important to improve the nursing degree's status.

She said: “If you’re paying for a degree, you are going to look at the league tables.”

The trust was working closely with other universities and recruiting graduates from Surrey and Southampton, she added.