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NHS vacancy rates 'unsustainable' despite record staff numbers

NHS vacancy rates 'unsustainable' despite record staff numbers

Nursing leaders have warned vacancy rates among nurses and midwives are still increasing, despite new figures showing the number of staff working in Scotland’s NHS is at a record high.

Figures from Scotland’s Information Services Division (ISD) released today show whole time equivalent (WTE) staffing levels are up 8.4 since 2006, with the biggest increase among nursing and midwifery staff of 516 WTE over the last year.

However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned the rise in unfilled positions is also increasing as demand for health services grows.


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There are currently over 2,400 vacancies for nurses and midwives, up from 615 in 2011. 500 of which have been unfilled for more than three months.

RCN Scotland associate director Ellen Hudson said the figures were “deeply worrying” because of rising demands on the NHS.

“This situation is not sustainable and puts even more pressure on existing staff who are working flat out on our wards and out in the community, without enough staff and feeling unable to provide the care they would like to,” she said.

The nursing workforce is also ageing, she warned.

“We cannot ‘magic’ nurses out of nowhere to fill these vacancies, but what the Government can do is make sure that health boards have the resources to invest in their nursing staff, while at the same time implementing changes to the way services are delivered for the future.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said the number of vacancies was due to new workload and workforce planning tools introduced to help health boards with planning.

“Several health boards have received additional investment to increase their nursing numbers and are in the process of recruiting these additional nurses. Additional posts have also been created across health boards to deal with winter pressures," she said

Robison also pointed to rising numbers of pre-registration student nursing and midwifery intakes and a £450,000 investment in encouraging those who have left the profession to return.

“We are committed to training and retaining our nursing staff,” she said.

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