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Rise in number of vacant nurse and midwife posts in Scotland

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There has been an increase in the number of nurses and midwife posts that are vacant in Scotland, including those that have been empty for a long period, according to latest official workforce figures.

As of 30 September 2017, 4.5% – or 2,789.2 whole time equivalent (WTE) – of nursing and midwifery posts were vacant, said a report from NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division.

This compares to 4.3% at 30 September 2016, said the report. Of these vacancies, 826.9 WTE were vacant for three months or more, an increase of 2.3 WTE over the past year.

Within nursing and midwifery, the highest number of vacancies were recorded for paediatric nursing followed by district nursing and health visiting.

Latest vacancy rates for different nurse types:

  • Adult nursing (1,507.6 WTE, 4.2% vacancy rate)
  • Mental health (403.6 WTE, 4.1%)
  • District nursing (227.5 WTE, 6.2%)
  • Paediatric nursing (157.0 WTE, 7.2%)
  • Health visiting (132.2 WTE, 5.8%)
  • Midwifery (127.2 WTE, 4.2%)

These same areas of nursing also had the highest numbers of posts vacant three months or more, said the ISD report – titled Quarterly update of Staff in Post and Vacancies at 30 September 2017.

It noted that “one of the highest individual vacancy rates” for nursing and midwifery was for health visiting staff.

The report highlighted that this was a “direct reflection” of a Scottish government commitment, made in June 2014, to create 500 new health visitor posts. The health visiting vacancy numbers above include both band 5 training posts and band 6 qualified posts.

“Nursing morale is low, and teams are struggling to recruit and retain the staff they need”

Theresa Fyffe

It noted that, in addition to the training intake in September, there is also a second intake in January at some universities. As a result, recruitment was “effectively taking place throughout the year” and not just focused around the beginning and end of the normal academic year in August and September.

This was one of the reasons why the rate of health visiting vacancies had “remained consistently high”, stated the report.

Commenting on the overall vacancy rate, Royal College of Nursing director Theresa Fyffe, said the figures reflected the “challenge faced by Scotland’s NHS” across both acute and community settings.

“There are simply too few nursing staff,” she said. “Nurses and health care support workers wanting to do their very best for patients are too often coming up against the reality of vacancies.

“Nursing morale is low, and teams are struggling to recruit and retain the staff they need,” warned Ms Fyffe.

“The prolonged pay freeze and workload challenges is adding to the anger of nursing staff who are working under enormous pressure, constantly being asked to do more with less,” she said.

She added: “The bottom line is that if there aren’t the nursing staff, patients won’t receive the care they need.”

“Ministers need to urgently relieve the pressure on hardworking staff”

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton also highlighted the figures showing that 826.9 nursing and midwifery posts were vacant for three months or more.

“Hundreds of posts are lying vacant for months on end as [first minister] Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to cut training places has come back to bite,” he said.

Mr Cole-Hamilton added: “These figures show that our health workers are under huge pressure and there can be no doubt that this is impacting on both NHS staff and their patients.

“The Royal College of Nursing recently reported that more than half of nurses said their last shift was short staffed, while 53% said patient care was being compromised,” he noted.

“Ministers need to urgently relieve the pressure on hardworking staff by giving them the support and resources they need, giving them a pay rise and delivering the sustainable workforce planning our NHS requires,” he said.

Overall, the ISD report showed there were 59,412.8 WTE nursing and midwifery staff in post on 30 September 2017, representing an increase of 251.7 WTE or 0.4% in the last year.

Meanwhile, WTEs have risen by 5.6% (3,149.3 WTE) since 2012, representing five years of consecutive growth. But the annual rate of growth has gradually declined in the last three years.

Qualified staff made up 72.8% – or 43,251.8 WTEs – of the total nursing and midwifery workforce and account for 82.9% (208.6 WTE) of the rise in staff in post over the last year.

During 2016-17, the student intake for nursing and midwifery increased by 3.2% to 3,266 – the highest intake recorded since 2010-11.

Overall, there were a total of 10,239 initial entrant nursing and midwifery students in training in 2016, an increase of 3.0% (303) since 2015.

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

Meanwhile, there were 642 advanced nurse practitioners in post, equating to 577.1 WTE, representing the first time that the ISD quarterly update report has presented data on ANPs.

Following the Scottish government commitment to train 500 new ANPs by 2021, the ISD said it had worked in collaboration with NHS boards to develop local and national data.

While the commitment relates to training, the ISD said it would continue to collect and publish figures on staff in post annually to support workforce planning for “this increasingly important role”.

The figures do not include the number of ANPs working in primary care, noted the report, but added that newly trained ANPs working in this area would be monitored by NHS Education Scotland.

However, between September 2016 and September 2017, the number of clinical nurse specialists in post decreased by 1% – equivalent to 20 WTE posts – to 1,961.7 WTE.


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