Hospitals in Preston and Chorley are struggling to recruit the nurses and midwives they need, NHS Digital data shows.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that both aspiring and experienced nurses are leaving the profession as a result of pressure on the workforce.
In January alone, The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust only managed to fill 82 of 177 nurse vacancies - fewer than half of what it required.
Leaders in the county have said that there are a myriad of reasons for people leaving the profession - for some the lure of the extra cash to be made in agency work and for others the chaos caused by a new parking system introduced at the two hospitals.
Latest figures show that 874 nursing and midwifery job openings were advertised by the NHS Trust between October 2017 and September 2018.
As of September, the trust employed 6,927 full-time staff, with 28 per cent of them in nursing and midwifery - but these roles made up 45 per cent of the positions advertised over the year.
Doctors and dentists, meanwhile, represented 12 per cent of staff and 12 per cent of vacancies.
Overall, 1,940 jobs opened up at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals over the year.
But Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has said that because of the size of the nursing workforce its approach is to recruit on a continuous basis with a disproportionate volume of recruitment notices advertised, meaning the number of job openings as advertised do not correspond to the actual number of vacancies.
Karen Swindley, executive director of workforce, education and strategy, said: “Last year we invested £6m in increasing the nursing and midwifery workforce, creating 273 extra posts. To fill these new roles, as well as manage general staff turnover, we proactively and continuously recruit nursing staff.
“Whilst our total nursing workforce has increased significantly, the number of nurse vacancies has actually reduced by 12 per cent over the past six months.
“We undertake regular workforce reviews, and monitor staffing levels every day to ensure we have sufficient nurses to provide safe care. We have established a staff bank which has been very successful in ensuring we can deploy staff at short notice to cover absence and vacancies.
“Our comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy is addressing the workforce shortages in a wide range of ways, from redesigning roles to make them more attractive, to sourcing staff from overseas.
“With the University of Bolton, we set up the first fee paying nurse degree course in the country in 2015, to grow our own nursing workforce for the future.
“We have invested in promoting the health and wellbeing of our workforce, and our education team delivers award winning nurse leadership and training programmes which is helping us retain and develop the best staff.”
Weighing in on the issue, Steven Turner of Unite the Union says the increasing workload is one of a number of reasons staff members are walking out.
He said: “I think this is a serious issue for the whole community as well as the Trust.
“I believe government policy to cut training bursaries is having an impact along with staff facing increasing workload pressures which are becoming intolerable.
“And not forgetting pay cuts in real terms because of government imposed austerity.
“Car parking chaos for staff has also lead to staff leaving.”
Both Preston and Chorley hospitals saw their car parking overhauled over the Christmas and New Year period.
ParkingEye was brought in to roll out a new system, based on automatic number plate recognition, which caused much disruption with lengthy queues as patients tried to understand the new rules.
The honorary president of Derian House Margaret Vinten MBE, who ran nine care homes over her lifetime, has also suggested that agency work provides more lucrative salaries, which sees the NHS digging deep in its pockets.
Ms Vinten, who qualified as a nurse in 1960, has a unique perspective on the issue after she was left on a stretcher in a corridor at Royal Preston for more than seven hours when she was taken to the hospital with a suspected heart attack.
She said: “I don’t know the statistics of the agencies but before I left my last nursing home one bank holiday I paid four times the amount I would have paid a staff nurse for New Year’s Eve.
“The salaries the agencies pay their nursing staff are very high. The agencies are costing the NHS.
“I founded Derian House Children’s Hospice and it’s the same thing. We can’t get staff for Derian House. We get them and then first opportunity they leave.
“It’s just a vicious circle. Where do we go? In Royal Preston in the corridor where I was for almost eight hours I felt so much better half way through the night and I could have gone home. I got off my trolley to try and quieten the other elderly people – there were about five or six people. We were taking up beds.
“I think it has to do with everything. An awful lot is to do with money.
“It’s all very hard. I feel that we should be means tested more and paying more for the NHS.
“A lot of nurses are now going abroad as well. It’s all rather sad. It’s a pity that we all have to find more money.”
Two out of five staff at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals reported stress-related illnesses last year, new data shows.
Healthcare experts say the figures indicate an “alarming downturn” in the well-being of healthcare workers.
The 2018 NHS Staff Survey revealed that 39 per cent of workers at the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust had felt unwell due to work-related stress over the last 12 months.
That’s higher than in 2017, when the figure was 36 per cent.
In addition, more than half the respondents admitted they had felt pressured into turning up at work during the last three months despite feeling too unwell to cope.
Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said government ministers were not paying enough attention to growing problems within the NHS.
She added: “With so few staff, it’s no wonder the pressures of working in the NHS are making so many health workers ill.”
The survey, which received 3,613 responses from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals employees, also asked staff about their experience of working at the trust.
The majority of staff were working overtime, with 68 per cent saying they worked extra unpaid hours on a weekly basis.
More than a quarter of respondents said they had been verbally abused or bullied by patients or members of the public, while 15 per cent had faced physical violence.
The results also revealed that one in four staff had been verbally abused or bullied by fellow members of staff.
Professor John Appleby, chief economist at healthcare charity the Nuffield Trust, said: “After years of holding up against all the odds, these figures confirm an alarming downturn in the well-being of hard-working NHS staff.
“These pressures are not just a matter for staff themselves but have a knock-on effect on patients too.”
Across England, four out of 10 NHS workers reported feeling unwell due to stress in 2018 - the highest level in five years.
Neil Churchill, director of patient experience at NHS England, said: “Whilst there are a number of positives in this year’s survey, it is also clear that local employers can do more to improve.
“We would expect all trusts to listen to the results from their staff survey and take appropriate action.”
The national picture
RCN England director Patricia Marquis said nationally underfunding and a lack of planning has severely depleted the nursing workforce.
She said: “Our members say they’ve been pushed from pillar to post. They feel anxious that they might make mistakes because of the constant pressure short staffing causes.
“The burden on the insufficient workforce leads to conditions in which experienced nurses consider leaving, and aspiring nurses think twice about their chosen career.”
She added: “Shortages don’t just make every hard-working healthcare worker’s job more taxing and arduous. It has a clear impact on the safe and effective care of patients.”
The RCN urged politicians to provide more funding for higher education in nursing and introduce legislation to crack down on unsafe staffing levels.
Across all trusts in England, just under 350,000 vacancies were posted over the year, with nearly 150,000 of them in nursing and midwifery.
Nursing staff make up 30 per cent of the national workforce, but 42 per cent of vacancies.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Record numbers of dedicated NHS staff work tirelessly to make sure patients get excellent, safe care.
“We are supporting them by opening 25 per cent more training places for doctors, nurses and midwives, giving a significant pay rise to over one million staff, and listening to the issues that matter to them.”