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Scottish nurse workforce hits record high – but so do vacancies

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Nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland have reached a record high despite more staff then ever before being in post, latest figures reveal.

New official statistics released today show that, while the nursing and midwifery workforce has hit the highest level since the data set began, so have the number of empty posts.

“Today’s figures clearly show that it’s time for change and highlight the need to address staffing shortages”

Eileen McKenna

At the end of December 2018, there were 60,144 whole-time equivalent nursing and midwifery qualified and support workers and 63,233 vacancies in the country’s NHS – a peak on both accounts since recording started in September 2007.

The figures from NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division suggest the workforce is struggling to keep up with the increasing pace of demand.

Responding to the figures, the Royal College of Nursing warned that the workforce statistics were proof that shortages of nursing staff “continues to be a challenge across Scotland’s NHS” and highlighted why legislation was needed to get staffing levels right.

The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Scottish parliament at the end of May and is still being considered for approval. 

“We’re developing a comprehensive integrated health and social care workforce plan”

Jeane Freeman

The data also shows that the number of student nurses and midwives in pre-registration training has also hit a new high since 2007, jumping to 10,645 in 2017, the latest figures available.

However, post-registration numbers are on a downward trend, falling 40% from 1,094 to 652 over the same period.

It comes after Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced at the end of last year that bursaries for student nurses and midwives would rise to £10,000 per year by 2020-21.

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman welcomed the figures, which also showed that the country’s overall NHS workforce has hit a record high with 140,710 staff in post.

She said the numbers reflected a continuation of seven years of growth in staffing. This year, student nursing and midwifery places funded by the government would increase for the seventh consecutive year, also reaching a new record high level, Ms Freeman noted. 

Ms Freeman added: “We’re developing a comprehensive integrated health and social care workforce plan to help ensure that we can ensure we have the right staff in the right place long into the future. 

Scottish government

Jeane Freeman

Source: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Jeane Freeman

“This will be informed by our safe staffing legislation that we are currently taking through the Scottish parliament – the first multidisciplinary workforce and workload planning legislation in the UK,” she said.

A report released to accompany the figures noted that 44,248 of the WTE nursing and midwifery staff in employment at December 2018 were qualified – a 0.3% increase from the same period last year.

Of the nursing and midwifery posts requiring qualified staff, 2,396 (5.1%) were vacant at the last count, an increase from 1,970 (4.3%) in December 2017.

The document stated that 636 (1.4%) of empty qualified nursing and midwifery positions had been vacant for three months or more at December 2018.

RCN Scotland associate director, Eileen McKenna, said: “It remains concerning that the vacancy rate for nurses and midwives in the NHS is higher than the same time last year, with a number of boards reporting a decrease in staff.

“Today’s figures clearly show that it’s time for change and highlight the need to address staffing shortages in nursing teams across Scotland’s NHS,” she said.

“Our NHS hospital and community teams are stretched to breaking point and those working in care homes, are under the same pressure,” said Ms McKenna.

“The bill before the Scottish parliament is a good start and an opportunity to secure change,” she said. “Work must continue to ensure that Scotland has the health and care staff it needs across nursing and other disciplines.”

She added: “The Scottish government must take responsibility for ensuring a supply of nursing staff that meets demand. 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 and ensure expectations of care can be met in reality.”

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