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NHS Scotland consultant and nursing vacancy rates hit ‘highest level since 2007’

Image credit: Peter Byrne/PA

NHS Scotland consultant and nursing vacancy rates hit ‘highest level since 2007’

NHS Scotland’s workforce crisis is deepening, with new data revealing vacancy rates among nurses, midwives, medical and dental consultants have reached the highest levels in 12 years.

The NHS Information Services Division (ISD) data, released today, revealed as of 30 June there were 4,013 nursing and midwifery positions vacant in Scotland, a rate of 6.3 per cent, which was a one per cent increase on last year and the highest rate since September 2007.

Of these vacancies, about 1,000 had been vacant for more than three months, an increase of 50.

The ISD figures showed 513 medical and consultant positions were vacant in the quarter to 30 June 2019, a rate of 8.8 per cent, with 265 of these positions vacant for six months or more. That rate was a 1.2 per cent increase from this time last year.

The number of vacant allied health professional posts was 597, or 4.8 per cent, which increased by 6.2 positions on the previous year.

Overall, there are now 163,617 NHS Scotland staff, an increase of 0.8 per cent compared to last year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland today called on the Scottish Government to "take action now to address nursing workforce shortages", by properly funding services and staff to allow providers to meet their duties under the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill.

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: "Across both acute and community settings, there are simply too few nursing staff."

"The number of nurses and healthcare support workers in both our NHS and care home sector is simply not keeping pace with the number of people they are expected to care for. Our members repeatedly tell us that there isn’t enough of them to do their job properly," she said.

“The Scottish Government must not lose sight of this workforce challenge. Scotland needs more nursing staff, we need more people to want to become nurses, and we need to have policies and working conditions that support nursing staff to stay in the profession.” 

The figures also attracted staunch criticism from opposition parties.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said the SNP “cannot pretend that 4,000 missing nurses and 500 vacant consultant posts – in a country the size of Scotland – is anything other than a full-blown crisis”.

“The SNP’s dismal workforce planning over more than a decade has brought us to this disastrous point,” he said.

“For years Nicola Sturgeon has been warned about an ageing and expanding population, as well as a workforce who – on average – are edging ever-closer to retirement. Yet her government has done nothing, and now patients are suffering.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said NHS job vacancies were “affecting patient care” and called for health secretary Jeane Freeman to “publish an annual report on workforce planning and lead an annual debate on it at parliament”.

“That way future problems can be spotted and sorted out before they happen, and health professionals won’t be the ones left to pick up the pieces,” he said.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour shadow health secretary Monica Lennon said the figures showed “the workforce crisis in NHS Scotland is deepening, heaping pressure onto already overworked staff”.

“These figures are nothing short of dreadful. The SNP government promised that things would get better for staff and patients under Jeane Freeman – it has only got worse,” she said.

“It is time for the health secretary to admit she has under-resourced our NHS and apologise to those patients and staff she has let down.”

In response to the ISD statistics, Freeman told Holyrood the Scottish Government was “doing all we can to try and mitigate the appalling impact that a no deal Brexit poses to recruitment to our health and care services, and as a consequence the impact on people who rely on those services”.

“NHS staffing has risen by almost 10 per cent under this government to historically high levels and is projected to continue to rise in the coming years,” she said.

“We recently passed our new safe staffing legislation to help plan and recruit our workforce to meet the changing health and care needs of the people of Scotland long into the future.

“We’ve supported this by increasing training places for medical students and for nursing students. In contrast to the actions of the UK Government for the health service in England, we’ve protected free nursing and free midwifery tuition and not only kept their bursary, but we are increasing it to £10,000 from next year.”

The figures come days after Audit Scotland released a report on Scotland’s primary care workforce, which found: “The Scottish Government is facing a significant challenge to increase the number of people working in GP surgeries, says the public spending watchdog.”

The report said an ageing clinical workforce and problems with recruitment and retention would make it difficult for the government to meet its target of 800 new GPs.

Auditor general for Scotland Caroline Gardner said Scotland’s primary care workforce was “under pressure and operating in an uncertain climate”.

“That makes detailed planning for the future even more important,” she said.

"To date, the Scottish Government has introduced major policy changes without a reliable basis for its plans. It now needs to get a much clearer picture of the workforce and set out detailed plans addressing how its initiatives will improve patient care and deal with future demand on services."

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