The chief executive of Scotland’s biggest nursing agency has spoken of her “despair” at the shortage of qualified nurses to fill gaps in care.
NHS providers are increasingly relying on agency and bank staff to fill gaps in their permanent workforce due to increasing demand, stricter rules on staffing and recruitment difficulties.
Now an agency has also warned that it is having trouble finding enough temporary staff to fill available shifts.
The agency ScotNursing says it is now only able to fill about 40% of available shifts compared to 90% in the past.
“We have never had a period like this, where there just don’t seem to be enough people to do the work”
The company is urging former and current nurses to consider doing occasional agency work to help address the shortfall.
ScotNursing chief executive Ann Rushforth, herself a nurse, said the problem was down to a range of factors including short-sighted workforce planning, high attrition rates on nursing courses and the fact many young people did not see nursing as a good career.
Meanwhile, she warned that unprecedented shortages in permanent – and now temporary staff – were putting huge pressure on over-stretched nursing teams.
“If we can’t get more people into nursing then I despair for the future,” Ms Rushforth told Nursing Times. “We need to train more nurses, but it takes at least three years to train a nurse and we need them right now.
“We have never had a period like this, where there just don’t seem to be enough people to do the work, so we’ve put a call-out to nurses who might be able to help address the shortfall,” she said.
Ms Rushforth added that the agency was seeking to attract registered nurses willing to do occasional shifts.
“Flexible nurses able to do occasional shifts are like pandas, because there are so few of them,” she said, noting that other nursing agencies and nursing banks were experiencing the same difficulties finding staff.
“I’m looking for people who may not be looking for a job or to do agency work all the time, but [who] could do the odd shift – even just once a month would help,” she told Nursing Times.
“With revalidation coming up there may be some people who have perhaps gone into the care sector but are keen to keep their registration, and doing a small amount of agency work is one way for them to keep their hand in and their skills up to date,” she suggested.
Other target groups include nurses working part-time in the private or voluntary sector who may be able to do some hospital shifts.
“Flexible nurses able to do occasional shifts are like pandas, because there are so few of them”
ScotNursing has been working with education establishments, including Glasgow Caledonian University, to develop refresher courses to help nurses back into the profession or take on a broader range of work.
The courses are aimed at registered nurses who may have taken a career break to have a family or moved into other roles, and need to update their clinical skills. They could also potentially help those wishing to move between different types of nursing care.
Ms Rushforth said nurses were being consulted on the content and the skills that would be most useful, which could include working with IV fluids and cannulation.
The courses were likely to feature some form of clinical placement involving participants shadowing nursing staff and would involve robust assessment, she added. The aim is to get the new training up and running as soon as this summer.
For those nurses whose registration has lapsed, Ms Rushworth welcomed a greater focus on return to practice schemes but said such programmes needed to be flexible.
“If someone has left the profession, there is usually a reason and it may not be possible to fit doing a full-time course round their other commitments,” she said.
“There are some very good online courses and other ways of providing the flexibility they need. People’s training needs will vary depending on how long they have been out of the profession.”
The Scottish government recently announced a 3% increase in nursing student places alongside £450,000 funding for a return to practice scheme over the next three years.
The scheme is expected to bring about 75 former nurses back into the profession each year.