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One in 20 nursing and midwifery posts in Scotland vacant

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Shortages of nursing staff continue to be a problem across Scotland, show the latest workforce figures published ahead of a key debate on new safe staffing law.

Figures released today show there were 59,489.2 whole time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff employed by NHS Scotland as of September this year made up of 72.8% qualified nurses and midwives and 27.2% support staff.

“The number of staff is just not keeping pace with the number of patients they’re expected to care for”

Norman Provan

The statistics show the overall nursing and midwifery vacancy rate was 4.8%. While this is down from a record high of 5.3% in June it means one in 20 posts remain vacant.

Meanwhile, the number of posts vacant for over three months or more has continued to increase and has now reached more than 1,000.

In all there were 43,276.5 whole time equivalent qualified nurses and midwives, down from a peak of 44,134.4 in December 2017.

The figures show the vacancy rate for qualified nurse and midwife roles increased from 4.8% in September 2017 to 5.3% in September this year.

The proportion of posts at bands 5 to 9 vacant for three months or more increased from 1.5% to 1.9%.

Over the same period, eight of Scotland’s regional NHS boards reported a reduction in registered nursing and midwifery staff in post.

The figures show vacancy rates are highest for paediatric nursing roles standing at 11.1% as of September this year.

Many community-based registered nursing roles also remain unfilled with vacancy rates of 6.8% in health visiting, 6.3% in school nursing and 6% in district nursing.

The figures come as Members of the Scottish Parliament prepare to debate new legislation on safe staffing tomorrow.

This follows a first stage review by the country’s health and sport committee, which said it supported the “general principles” of the bill but said it had “many concerns”.

These include whether busy healthcare staff would have the time to complete training on how to use new workload planning tools.

Royal College of Nursing associate director Norman Provan said the latest workforce statistics demonstrated the need to enshrine safe staffing in law.

“The pressures on nurses and health care support workers are huge - demand for health and care services is rocketing and the number of staff is just not keeping pace with the number of patients they’re expected to care for,” he said. 

“Having the right number of nursing staff, with the right skills and experience to meet demand is fundamental for the safety of patients and the wellbeing of our members,” he added. 

Royal College of Nursing

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Norman Provan

Mr Provan said the safe staffing bill was a key part of efforts to ensure enough staff now and in the future.

“With the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, MSPs have the opportunity to get the processes that support long-term workforce planning right to ensure that Scotland has the nursing staff required to deliver care to all those who need it,” he said.

The workforce statistics published by Information Services Division Scotland show the overall turnover rate for nursing and midwifery staff in 2017-18 was 7.2%.

The figures show an ageing workforce continues to be a key issue in Scotland with nearly one in five – 19.1% - nursing and midwifery staff aged 55 and over.

Meanwhile, figures for use of bank and agency nursing and midwifery staff show NHS Scotland has managed to reduce its reliance on agency workers.

Spending on agency workers reduced to £23.6m in the year ending March 2018 down from £24.5m the previous year.

However, spending on bank staff increased from £142m to £152.1m with nearly 9,000 hours worked by bank staff in the year ending March 2018.

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