HOSPITALS in Essex have insisted they are recruiting enough nurses, after NHS figures revealed a drop in the number working in the region.

The Royal College of Nursing yesterday seized on Government figures showing the number of nurses registered with the NHS in the East of England had fallen by 271, between April 2012 and last May. Karen Webb, the college’s regional director, said there was a link between adequate staffing and good quality of care.

She said: “If nurses are run off their feet because they are shortstaffed then patient care will suffer.

“The NHS is facing rising demand at a time when the service has been cut to save £20 billion by 2015. Cutting frontline staff is not the answer.”

A review into hospital care this year saw Basildon Hospital placed in special measures, while Colchester General Hospital was ordered to improve.

Both hospitals have launched overseas recruitment drives after struggling to fill vacancies through local advertising and hiring graduates from universities.

So far, 68 nurses from Spain have started work at Colchester’s hospitals and a recruitment firm has been hired to find 50 more.

Basildon Hospital has launched a £1.8million drive to hire 200 extra nurses and healthcare assistants from the region and abroad, including Spain and the Philippines.

A spokesman said in June last year there were 1,324 registered nurse posts, of which 120 were vacant.

By June this year, the number of positions had been raised to 1,503.

Following the recruitment drive, 198 offers and appointments had been made, of which 35 staff have already started working.

The remainder will be in place by November, leaving 61 nursing posts vacant and meaning 1,442 full time nurses will be employed by the trust.

Staffing levels at Southend Hospital remained steady.

In April 2012, there were the equivalent of 1,031 full-time nurses and midwives.

This had dipped slightly to 1,029 by May this year.

The numbers of actual nurses and midwives working at the trust is likely to be higher, as some will work part-time.

Chief nurse, Sue Hardy said: “We have retained our nursing staff numbers over the past year and are recruiting.”

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust added: “In general terms, the number of nurses employed by this Trust has increased in recent years.

“Following a review in January and February this year, we identified the need to further increase our nursing workforce by 46 qualified nurses, primarily because of increased demand and higher numbers of sicker patients.

“Our chief executive reported at last month’s board meeting these staff have been recruited and completed their induction and are now working here.

“A further 45 qualified nurses will start in October and November and 33 pre-registration (recently qualified) nurses begin in October, mainly as a result of a ward nursing skill review undertaken in June.”