The number of qualified nurses and midwives in Scotland has crept up since last year, but there are a record number of vacancies, according to latest NHS workforce figures.
The data, published by NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division (ISD), shows the vacancy rate currently stands at 5.2%, with about one in every 20 nursing and midwifery posts unfilled.
“Faced with gaps in their teams, nursing staff are working under enormous pressure”
As of June this year, the overall number of nursing and midwifery staff, including support workers, stood at 59,377.9 whole-time equivalents (WTE) – up by 0.3% on June last year.
The figures show a “slow and steady growth” in the overall nursing and midwifery workforce over the past five years, following a major dip linked to the recession. The number of qualified nurses alone increased by 0.4% in the last year.
However, the data shows nursing and midwifery vacancies increased by 25.9% in the last year to more than 3,200 WTE posts. Of those, just over 950 had been vacant for more than three months – up 59.2% on June 2016.
The majority of vacancies – 80% – were for qualified nursing and midwifery staff, with 84.3% of the posts empty for three months or more being qualified roles.
The data shows overall vacancy rates have continued to increase since a low in 2010 and 2011, which was linked to a reduction in active recruitment resulting from the downturn in the economy at that time.
“Ministers need to take the pressure off staff by giving them the support and resources they need”
However, the increase in vacancies in the past year was partly down to more accurate recording of vacancy information by some health boards, noted the ISD report.
When it comes to specific areas of nursing, as of June this year, the highest number of vacancies was in adult nursing – 1,906.6 WTE posts – representing a vacancy rate of 5.3%.
There were 435 WTE vacancies in mental health – a 4.4% vacancy rate – and just over 200 vacancies in district nursing – a 5.5% vacancy rate.
Vacancies in midwifery stood at just under 137 WTE posts – a vacancy rate of 4.5% – and in children’s nursing there were 155.3 vacant posts – a 7.1% vacancy rate. Paediatric nursing saw the highest proportion of roles staying empty for three months or more at nearly 40%.
The highest vacancy rate of 7.3% was recorded for health visiting with 162 jobs left unfilled. But the report said this reflected a government drive to create 500 new health visiting posts with recruitment for training and qualified health visitor posts taking place throughout the year.
The data shows the overall vacancy rate among bands 5 to 9 nursing staff was 5.7%, and 3.7% among the lower bands of 1 to 4.
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Norman Provan, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, said the high levels of vacancies showed the government and health boards had “failed to future proof the workforce”.
“Faced with gaps in their teams, nursing staff are working under enormous pressure and constantly being asked to do more with less,” he said.
“Without strategic long-term planning and ensuring nursing staff are paid fairly for the work they do, patients won’t get the care they need,” he added.
The RCN highlighted that it had called on the Scottish government to ensure its proposed bill on safe staffing in health and social care also supported better workforce planning.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton blamed “shoddy planning” for what he described as an NHS “recruitment crisis” with staff at “breaking point”.
“Ministers need to take the pressure off staff by giving them the support and resources they need and delivering the sustainable workforce our health service requires,” he said.
Meanwhile, official projections, which featured in a government report published last week, show Scottish health boards are planning to increase their nursing and midwifery workforce by nearly 600 posts this year.
The overall 1% boost is expected to see the number of whole-time equivalent nursing and midwifery jobs rise to 60,244 in 2018, as reported by Nursing Times.
Responding to the latest workforce figures, Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said some of the increase in vacancies was the result of new posts being created in health boards and highlighted that staff levels within the NHS in Scotland had risen to “historically high levels”.
She said: “Under this government, NHS staff numbers have risen to historically high levels, with more doctors and nursing staff now delivering care for the people of Scotland – including over 2,000 additional qualified nurses and midwives.
“We’re committed to training and retaining our nursing staff, and earlier this year we confirmed a 4.7% increase in trainee nurses and midwives for 2017-18 – a fifth successive rise,” she said. “We have also committed £450,000 over three years to reintroduce a national return to practice scheme.”