HOSPITALS are suffering from a shortage of hundreds of nurses according to new figures.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, had 512 unfilled nursing vacancies in September this year.

That is almost 150 more than at the same time last year, when the trust had 365 unfilled roles.

Royal College of Nursing officer Colin White said the figure was unsurprising.

But he worried the drastic nursing shortage would compromise the safety of patients.

“Across the country it’s a lot harder to recruit nurses because the nursing bursary was abolished in 2006,” he said.

“Nurses now have to pay for their tuition as well as accept low wages.

“Some roles are more difficult to fill than others because of the skill involved.”

Caroline Fife, officer at the Unison trade union, said it was hard to recruit nurses in Sussex because of high housing costs.

“Brighton is an expensive place for people to live in, the house prices are higher than most,” she said.

“But there is only a national pay rate for nurses, so it’s easier for them to live in Liverpool than it is here.

“We try to tell members not to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, but that always happens here.”

And because NHS trusts are discouraged from hiring agency staff because of costs, more nurses are having to work extra hours to keep hospitals functioning.

“The Government tends to stop trusts using agencies because they’re too expensive,” said Ms Fife.

“So staff have to sign up to the bank, where they are then selected to work extra hours.

“Most nurses I have spoken to are working beyond their full-time hours.

“Because Brighton is a tourist town, there can be a lot more patients to deal with at peak times too, which means more need to work on the bank.

“A lot of nurses just become exhausted.”

Though Ms Fife said Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust was dealing well with the crisis, she said government action was needed.

“We need to bring back nursing bursaries for one,” she said.

“And we also need to create more key housing for nurses so they can afford to live in areas like Brighton.”

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was approached for comment but did not respond within the time given.