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'Interns' masking true state of nurse workforce, says RCN Scotland

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There has been a slight increase in nurses working in Scotland, potentially marking an end a recent workforce slump – though unions remain doubtful.

Latest workforce figures for NHS Scotland show an increase of 0.4% for the number of whole time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff in the three months between December 2011 and the end of March this year, up from 56,238.5 to 56,467.3.

However, there was an overall reduction in the nursing and midwife workforce in the 12 months up till 31 March, with 943.3 WTE posts lost across NHS Scotland.

The figures also reveal that use of agency nurses in the NHS has decreased by 10% over the last financial year, while the use of the nursing bank has increased by 3%. 

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “Using the nurse bank has saved the NHS over £22m on agency spend since it was created – but the important thing is that our bank nurses are better trained, ensuring high quality, safe and effective care for our patients.”

But the Royal College of Nursing warned that the small increase in nursing staff did “not mean the end of years of damaging cuts to the nursing workforce”.

The college said the small increase in the number of nursing and midwifery staff was largely accounted for by the inclusion of nursing and midwifery “interns” in the workforce figures.

The internship scheme is available to newly qualified nurses who cannot gain employment. They work a 22.5 hour week and the internship lasts one year.

RCN Scotland associate director Ellen Hudson said: “This quarter’s small increase can largely be put down to the inclusion of nursing interns in the figures, so is not a true reflection of the nursing workforce.

“Neither does it mean the end of workforce cuts: projections for the current year are still to be published and we are aware of a number of health boards who are looking at more cuts this year.” 

She added: “Health boards now need to be realistic about the number of nurses they employ if they are going to continue to deliver against targets and maintain high standards in patient care, and further cuts to make savings must be seen as a last resort.”

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