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Caution over ‘record high’ in Scottish nurse workforce

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More nursing staff than ever before are working in Scotland’s NHS, according to latest figures, but unions have cautioned that it merely represents “steady progress” towards what the service needs.

The Scottish Government said today that, on 31 December, a total of 138,310 whole-time equivalent staff were employed by NHS Scotland, which it said was a “record high”.

“We know that demand on our NHS continues to grow”

Shona Robison

It highlighted that the total included over 2,500 more WTE nursing and midwifery staff. In addition, over 280 more WTE nurses and midwives were employed in the last year, it said in a statement.

However, there were 2,188.7 WTE vacant nursing and midwifery posts, a vacancy rate of 3.6% which is similar to the previous year when it was 3.4%.

The staffing figures were published by Information Services Division Scotland in its latest NHSScotland Workforce Information report.


Shona Robison

Shona Robison

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said the figures reflected the government’s “commitment to a well-resourced and well-funded health service”.

She said: “These latest figures show staffing in the NHS again reaching a record high, with more nurses and more consultants working in Scotland’s health service than ever before.”

Ms Robison highlighted the Scottish Government’s “record levels of investment” in health that would see next year’s NHS and social care budget to surpass £13bn for the “first time ever”.

“Our significant investment has allowed us to support and grow the NHS workforce,” she said, adding that she had recently confirmed a 5.6% rise in student nursing and midwifery intakes – the fourth successive year of such increases.

“However we know that demand on our NHS continues to grow, with increasing numbers of patients, with more complex illnesses being treated,” she said. “That is why we will continue to invest in our health service and the fantastic staff.”

”We know that no one can ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ to magically fill these vacancies”

Theresa Fyffe

Commenting on the statistics, the Royal College of Nursing said they showed a “modest” rise in the number of nurses and midwives working in NHS Scotland.

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “It’s very much ‘steady as she goes’ on workforce numbers with only gradual increases in the overall figures and a vacancy rate that continues to run along at over 3%.”

Ms Fyffe warned that the pace of improvement was “not enough”, given the pressures continuing to build on “hard pressed” staff.

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

She noted that, in the most recent NHS staff survey, only 26% of nurses and midwives felt that there were enough staff to do their job properly.

“The call, which we have consistently made in recent years, remains the same. We need to take a long, hard look now at how our health services are delivered, if they are to be sustainable,” said Ms Fyffe.

“We know that no one can ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ to magically 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,” she added.

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