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Nurse numbers rise in Scotland, but staff remain under pressure

The number of staff working in Scotland’s NHS has risen to a “record high”, according to ministers, but unions warn that nurses remain under intense pressure due to demand for services.

Latest workforce figures show a continued rise in the total number of whole time equivalent staff, including nurses and midwives, employed by NHS Scotland.   

“I am particularly pleased to note that the number qualified nurses and midwifes, the beating heart of our NHS, has increased”

Alex Neil

The figures, published today by the Information Services Division of NHS Scotland, showed the total number of WTE staff increased by 2,501.8 during the 12 months between June 2013 and June 2014 – up from 133,378.9 to 135,880.7.  

Meanwhile, the number of WTE nursing and midwifery staff increased by 1,309.6 – up from 57,152.7 to 58,462.3.

According to a monthly breakdown of the figures, between March and June this year, the number increased by 289.6 – from 58,172.7 to 58,462.3.

“The not-so-good-news is that health boards continue to struggle to meet the increasing demands”

Theresa Fyffe

However, while the number of nurses and midwives has increased, so has the number of vacant posts – suggesting that health boards believe they need yet more staff to cope with demand.

On the 30 June 2014, the total number of WTE vacancies for nursing and midwifery was 1,865.3, a vacancy rate of 3.1%. This represents an increase from 2.9% in June 2013 and 2.7% in March 2014.

Alex Neil

Alex Neil MSP

Commenting on the data, Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: “The increase in health workers to a record level reflects is a result of our efforts to make sure the NHS has the right number of the right staff group working in the right place to deliver a world-leading health service.

“I am particularly pleased to note that the number qualified nurses and midwifes, the beating heart of our NHS, has increased by 4.4% to a record high,” he added.

The Royal College of Nursing said there was “no doubt” that health boards had acknowledged the fact they needed more nursing staff to care for a growing number of frail and older people.

RCN Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe said: “The good news is that the number of nursing and midwifery staff in post has increased by 2.3% between June 2013 and June 2014.

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

“The not-so-good-news is that health boards continue to struggle to meet the increasing demands on our health service, despite the recent increase in staff,” she said. 

She added that the rising vacancy rise was also “piling even more pressure on already over-stretched nursing staff”.

Ms Fyffe noted in particular that most boards were failing to meet targets for accident and emergency waiting times and delayed discharges continued to be a problem.

According to the most recent RCN survey in Scotland, 64% of hospital nursing staff said they were too busy to provide the level of care they wanted to and 9% of respondents in the 2014 Scottish Inpatient Patient Experience Survey felt there were “rarely or never” enough nurses to treat them.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Having suffered the indignity of being a patient in NHS Scotland twice in the last year: I'd rather have quality than quantity. The "care" I received was so appalling and dignity-removing (including on a unit that has apparently been part of a 'compassionate care' project) that I was left in fear of my life if ever attended those settings again, and ashamed to be associated with the professional.
    Back-covering, falsified documentation is the norm, and haven't yet met a nurse who seems to realise the subsequent implication of those lies for the poor patient.
    Fortunately on the second occasion I was unconscious, but was discharged home (to an empty home) whilst still amnesic. I will never know what happened in those 1st 24hrs post-discharge, and by luck rather than judgement that survived.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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