The Royal College of Nursing has warned that, although the size of the NHS workforce in Scotland is rising, frontline nurses are increasingly reporting staffing shortages.
The warning followed the release of a raft of data on the health service by NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division on Tuesday.
Latest workforce data revealed a continuing upward trend, with a record high in the number of NHS nursing staff reached, according to ministers.
“We’re deeply concerned that the general trend on vacancy rates for nursing is worsening”
As of 31 December 2014, the total number of NHS Scotland staff in post was 137,511 whole time equivalent – an increase of 1.8 per cent since the same point last year. Nursing and midwifery accounted for 42.9% of the workforce with 59,003 WTE staff on 31 December 2014.
The Scottish Government highlighted that since it took power there were an additional 2,315 WTE qualified nurses and midwives, and that staff numbers had reached a record levels.
But the new figures also show that, despite an improvement since the last quarter, the vacancy rate for nurses and midwives is getting worse year-on-year.
The total number of nursing and midwifery vacancies in December 2014 was 2,088 – a vacancy rate of 3.4% – compared to 1,514 WTE vacancies in December 2013 – a vacancy rate of 2.5%.
RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “While it’s good news that the number of nurses working in our NHS is increasing, we’re deeply concerned that the general trend on vacancy rates for nursing is worsening.
“It’s not surprising that our members are increasingly reporting that they don’t think there are enough staff in post to deliver good quality patient care,” she said.
Over the week ending 22 February, there were 25,554 attendances to Scotland’s 32 emergency departments.
“We need a joined-up, co-ordinated approach, and we need it now”
The proportion of attendances that were seen and subsequently admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours was 86.1%. The figures also showed that 689 patients (2.7%) spent more than eight hours in A&E and 187 patients (0.7%) spent more than 12 hours.
It was the first time that total weekly – rather than only monthly – data on accident and emergency activity in Scotland has been published. It follows a government pledge to improve public access to “accurate, high quality and timely statistics”.
Ms Fyffe said the figures showed that a patient’s chances of being seen within the four hour A&E target were “decreasing”.
“This is despite A&E staff and staff throughout the whole of the NHS working flat out to ensure people are treated as quickly and as effectively as possible,” she said.
“A major cause of this pressure is that the number of delayed discharges is continuing to climb, with people stuck in hospital, despite being clinically ready to go home or into a care home,” she added, noting that the latest monthly data on delayed discharge showed a worsening picture nationally.
From October to December 2014, 168,526 bed days were occupied by delayed discharge patients, compared with 134,978 during the same quarter last year, according to figures from the Information Services Division.
In addition, during January, 329 patients were delayed over four weeks, compared with 254 in January 2014.
Ms Fyffe said the combination of figures should spur ministers to “take a coherent approach to the entire health and social care system”.
“Currently, it appears that problems are being considered in isolation via individual task forces and working groups,” she said. “We need a joined-up, co-ordinated approach, and we need it now.”