Nursing and midwifery staff numbers have continued to grow in Scotland but the latest vacancy rates reveal more than 2,500 posts are empty, according to official figures released yesterday.
There are now 59,188 whole-time equivalent nurses and midwives working in the NHS, according to the latest quarterly data published in a report by the Information Services Division Scotland.
“As we increase the workforce we expect to see vacancy levels fluctuate given the natural turnover of staff in an organisation of this size”
This represents a 0.2% increase of 115 WTE members of staff in June 2016, compared to the same time last year. However, there were 2,566 nursing and midwifery vacancies at the end of June this year, with around 20% of these having been empty for more than three months.
Health secretary Shona Robison welcomed the continued rise in staffing, and said the Scottish government was committed to working with health boards to reduce long-term vacancies.
“Under this government, NHS staff numbers have risen significantly, with more consultants, nurses and midwives now delivering care for the people of Scotland,” she said.
“As we increase the workforce, we expect to see vacancy levels fluctuate given the natural turnover of staff in an organisation of this size,” she said.
“Fluctuations are also caused by increased number of posts available. However, we are committed to working with health boards to help them minimise long-term vacancies,” added Ms Robison.
“It’s not good enough for the Scottish government to say that there are more staff in the NHS now and ignore the pressures facing staff”
“We know our NHS faces many pressures and is treating more patients, with more complex illnesses, than ever before. Despite these pressures, the fantastic staff working in the NHS continue to deliver high quality care,” she said.
However, the Royal College of Nursing warned the increase in staff was not keeping pace with demand, saying it was “not good enough” for the government to focus on increases in staff numbers without addressing the pressure on staff.
“While the number of nursing and midwifery staff in post has gone up ever so slightly over the last year, it’s clear from the figures… that the increase in staff is not keeping pace with demand,” said RCN associate director Norman Provan.
He highlighted that the vacancy rate in June 2016 was 4.2%, an increase from 3.7% over the year and “even more worrying” almost 600 posts had been vacant for three months or more.
“We know that health boards are struggling to deliver services to more and more people, with budgets which are not keeping pace with increasing demand for services,” he said.
“Health boards may be putting off recruiting staff to save money and we know that many are really struggling to recruit enough nurses to fill these vacancies,” he added.
“It’s not good enough for the Scottish government to say that there are more staff in the NHS now and ignore both the pressures facing staff on a daily basis and the realities of rising demand on our health and care services,” he said.
Mr Provan said the way services were delivered needed to be changed “urgently”.
As reported last week by Nursing Times, recent forecasts by health boards have predicted a rise in the number of full-time nurses and midwives working in the NHS in Scotland by around 440 over the current financial year.
The size of the nursing and midwifery workforce is projected to increase by 440.2 WTEs from 59,351.0 in March 2016 to 59,791.3 in March 2017 – representing an increase of 0.7%.