NHS Scotland staffing issues ‘urgent’ warns Audit Scotland

Written by Tom Freeman on 27 July 2017 in News

Staffing in NHS Scotland needs a more long-term approach, warns Audit Scotland

NHS ward - PA

The Scottish Government must act urgently to address NHS workforce challenges, Audit Scotland has warned.

Spending on staff in Scotland's NHS is increasing and overall staff numbers are at their highest level ever, but long term challenges are not being addressed, according to the country’s spending watchdog.

In a new report Audit Scotland said regional health boards are overspending on recruitment and agency staff without effective long term planning.


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Rising vacancy rates have coincided with an ageing workforce and reported increases in workloads, particularly from nurses and midwives.

One in three NHS staff are now over the age of 50.

The Scottish Government published part of its national workforce plan in June, which included a commitment to establish a new National Workforce Planning group.

However, responsibility for addressing the challenges is “confused” between government, health boards and regional workforce planning groups, Auditor General Caroline Gardner warned.

This will fragment even more as health and social care continues to be integrated, she added.

“Thousands of people work hard in Scotland's NHS to deliver vital public services every day, but there are signs that the health service is under stress and that staff face increasing workload pressures,” she said.

“The Scottish Government and NHS boards recognise the challenges, but urgently need to improve their understanding of future demand, staff projections and associated costs, and set out in detail how they plan to create a workforce that can meet the long-term health needs of the population.”

 Professional bodies and unions welcomed the report.

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland (RCN) said staff are under “unrelenting pressure” due to the ageing population.

“The RCN has warned for some time that the Scottish Government has failed to future proof NHS Scotland’s workforce,” she said.

“Today’s report echoes that sentiment and impresses upon the Scottish Government, NHS boards and Integration Authorities the urgency with which workforce planning now needs to be addressed.

“Audit Scotland has hit the nail on the head – for too long plans have been restricted by what is affordable and achievable with the staff available – rather than focusing on strategic, long-term planning to meet demand.

“The result is that Scotland has too few nursing staff in post and too few nurses being trained.”

Chair of BMA Scotland Dr Peter Bennie highlighted increasing vacancies in consultant posts while the pay freeze has been in place.

“The high level of long term vacancies is a clear sign that the Scottish Government is not getting to grips with the crisis in the recruitment and retention of NHS staff and action is needed now to make Scotland an attractive place for doctors to train and work,” he said.

UNISON Scotland's health spokesman Matt McLaughlin said staff on the ground would question the figures showing more is being spent on the workforce.

“Whilst money and resources are being allocated, they are not always used in the right way or in the right place,” he said.

“The over reliance on bank and agency nursing and short contracting of domestics, porters and other support staff are some examples of how the reality is at odds with the academic findings.”

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