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Nurse shortage leaves agency unable to fill shifts, warns boss


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”

Ann Rushforth

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.


Ann Rushforth

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”

Ann Rushforh

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.


Readers' comments (8)

  • I have a simple idea please lobby the present government not to mess with Nurse's pay and conditions for example threatening to taking away enhanced payments for nights and weekends as this will create a further crisis in filling shifts as Nurses will be further demoralised ,leave the NHS fight and over who does nights and weekends do not reduce expenditure in this way at ground roots level ,value Nurses look after them and patients will get better quality care and CQC will be happy also agency will cost more by the way

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  • With agency nursing costs running with £7 per hour overheads and NHSP at 60p per hour overheads. We are not allowed to use agency.

    We have not been able to recruit, in part, due to cost cutting exercises, but also due to single applicants for full time vacancies, then what do you do, take on someone who insists she will only work 3 days when she is the only applicant or do you try again. Once upon a time dozens would apply.

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  • *It is not possible to retrain nurses by using 'on line' courses. ( I did my return to practice 5 years ago, face to face and it was useless, a tick box exercise )

    * many nurses who have not practiced for a while are very out of date.

    *It costs alot of money to do a return to practice course, I had to fund myself.

    *The call for nurses to just do a shift a month is appalling and totally does not understand that for the most part trained nurses work totally unsupervised with at least 8-9 patients under their care, with complex or specialised needs. ( I know what the recommendation is , I am talking reality)


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  • I worked for Scotnursing many years ago. I was paid a pittance! Their rates were abysmal....surprised they're still in business!

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  • Laha78

    How about the NHS just considers paying their own nurses more and we wouldn't have to pay agencies!
    Sat night I was working with an agency nurse who was being paid £55 per hour and refused to do cannulation, venepuncture, ECG's or dispense meds!!!!! She was worse than a nurse down and basically got paid a staff nurse rate for doing less than a band 2! And trusts wonder why their nurses are demoralised and sickness is at an all time high!!!!!

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  • Cameron will just force nurses to work24 hour days for nowage as the oublic don't want agency nurses as the dm states they are paid thoudands of quid per shift,get the bankers to do a shift, they owe us

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  • Is there any way the NHS could hire more part-time nurses? It seems to me that if the workforce wants flexibility you are just shooting yourself in the foot to insist on only hiring full-time, then working those nurses to death with mandatory overtime.

    The US navy did something similar 30 years ago. The economy was good, Navy pay was poor, so many (especially officers) left for better paying private sector jobs. This left the US Navy critically short (especially on officer staff), so they worked the remaining officers into the ground (18 hr days on some ships) with the result that even MORE officers left. Pay reforms eventually helped stem the losses, but not before a very high percentage of the younger officers left.

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  • Just qualified as a nurse and want flexible working, but can't work as a bank nurse on NHS Professionals because I need 6 months experience first!!!!!!
    Apparently the six months' experience can be 12.5 hours a week or 40+ hours a wee, as long as it's six months!!!!!
    The SYSTEM is CRAZY.

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