Concerns have been raised over the potential delay of a health and social care workforce plan in Scotland.
It comes just weeks after the country’s chief auditor warned that services were facing “major workforce challenges” including difficulties recruiting and retaining enough nurses.
“The NHS is facing serious challenges in recruiting staff at every level”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton has criticised the government after health secretary Jeane Freeman admitted the release of plan was likely to be delayed for a month, from December 2018 to January 2019.
Figures obtained by the Lib Dems show 958 nursing posts in the country’s health service have been empty for three months or more, and midwifery vacancies have quadrupled in the last five years.
In response to a parliamentary question today (see PDF attached), Ms Freeman said a draft of the integrated health and social care workforce plan had been sent to stakeholders and that work was ongoing to finalise it.
“It is important to ensure that the plan’s contents meet with stakeholders’ expectations,” she added.
“To ensure they have sufficient opportunity to comment on and contribute to the plan we are extending our planned engagement period,” Ms Freeman said.
“Consequently, the publication date for the plan is therefore likely to move from December to January 2019,” she said.
“It is important to ensure that the plan’s contents meet with stakeholders’ expectations”
Mr Cole-Hamilton claimed three previous health and social care workforce plans had also been released late.
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He added: “The NHS is facing serious challenges in recruiting staff at every level.
“The health secretary talks about meeting stakeholders expectations - the most important stakeholders are patients and NHS staff and they will be baffled that, like its three predecessors, this plan is running late,” said Mr Cole-Hamilton.
He added: “The SNP must say now whether they consider the current level of staffing acceptable or admit there have been serious issues in their slow and clumsy handling of workforce planning.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have extended the consultation period of the integrated health and social care workforce plan a matter of weeks to give stakeholders including the Royal College of Nursing, sufficient opportunity to comment and contribute, which is the correct approach to take.
“Scotland is the first country in the UK to have such a plan and good progress is being made. We continue to work closely and constructively with stakeholders as it’s important that its contents meet their expectations.”
He added that NHS Scotland’s workforce had increased by around 10% in the past decade to ”historically high levels”.