The Royal College of Nursing in Scotland has launched a public campaign to ask for more for nurses so that patients “receive safe, high quality care”.
The new campaign was launched on Wednesday as latest NHS workforce statistics show the vacancy rate for nurses and midwives in the health service has reached its highest level ever in Scotland.
“Today’s figures show the magnitude of the staffing shortage in nursing teams”
According to figures published today, there were 59,455.9 WTE nursing and midwifery staff in post, representing an annual increase of 0.1% (77.9 WTE).
The proportion of qualified nurses and midwives “remains similar to last year” at 73.0% (43,364.5 WTE), said the Scottish government’s Information Services Division.
There were 5.3% (3,311.2 WTE) nursing and midwifery posts vacant, compared to 5.2% (3,232.6 WTE) at 30 June 2017, it said in a new report.
It added that the proportion of nursing and midwifery posts vacant for three months or more “remains unchanged” over the past year at 1.5% (957.2 WTE).
The RCN said the latest NHS Scotland workforce data published by the ISD showed the “extent of nursing shortages across Scotland’s NHS”.
“That’s why we’re asking members of the public, to make their voices heard loud and clear”
It noted that the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate now stands at 5.3% was the highest number ever reported – meaning that one in 20 nursing and midwifery posts in NHS Scotland was vacant.
The RCN noted that it had previously called for legislation in each country of the UK to address staffing for safe and effective care.
In May, the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish parliament – following the introduction of similar legislation in Wales.
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The college said the ‘Ask for more’ campaign will run throughout the autumn, as members of the Scottish parliament undertake their initial work on the bill.
Commenting on the campaign, RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “Today’s figures show the magnitude of the staffing shortage in nursing teams across Scotland’s NHS.
“But it’s not just our NHS hospital and community teams which are stretched to breaking point, those working in care homes, are under the same pressure,” said Ms Fyffe.
“It’s time for change,” she said. “Evidence shows that having the right number of nursing staff with the right skills and knowledge is linked to better outcomes.
“The bill before the Scottish parliament is an opportunity to secure change,” she said. “If we get this legislation right it will help to ensure that nursing teams have the right staff to provide safe, effective and high quality care.”
She added: “That’s why we’re asking members of the public, to make their voices heard loud and clear so that their expectations of care are met in reality.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton criticised the government for “haphazard and short-sighted” workforce planning in the wake of the new figures.
“The persistently high levels of vacancies in our health service puts unimaginable strain on existing staff”
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The persistently high levels of vacancies in our health service puts unimaginable strain on existing staff.
“The Scottish National Party’s haphazard and short-sighted workforce planning has left doctors and nurses picking up the slack,” he said.
He added: “The Liberal Democrats want to see the health minister publish an annual report on workforce planning and lead an annual debate on it at parliament.”
But Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman highlighted the six consecutive years of growth in workforce numbers, stating “The number of people working in our health service is at historically high levels.”
“Under this government the number of whole time equivalent (WTE) qualified nurses and midwives has increased by 5.7% and the number of WTE consultants has risen by 48.3% over the same period,” she said.
“Through our recently introduced draft legislation for health boards and care providers to have appropriate staffing in place, and our on-going investment in the NHS, we will ensure that patients will continue to receive safe, high quality,” she added.