The nursing workforce in north east Scotland is facing a “looming crisis”, due to difficulties filling vacancies, the Royal College of Nursing has claimed.
NHS Grampian had 328 whole time equivalent nursing and midwifery vacancies as of 31 March – a vacancy rate of 6.3%, compared with an NHS Scotland average of 2.7%.
The warning, issued at RCN Scotland’s June board meeting, follows an inspection by regulators at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in April when staffing concerns were raised by nurses.
A Health Improvement Scotland report on the visit said: “Several senior charge nurses and clinical service managers across three wards we inspected told us of concerns they had about staffing levels on their wards.
“They had concerns that, at times, this affected the quality of care they were able to provide,” the report added, though it noted inspectors had seen no evidence of patient care being compromised.
Senior charge nurse and RCN Scotland board member Ally Grant said: “We have been saying for long enough there are not enough nursing staff in hospitals across Grampian to care for patients safely and this report – and the staff who spoke out – has finally got the message through.”
He added that the high cost of housing in Aberdeen meant it was difficult to attract recruits, meaning there was often reliance on bank staff to fill gaps, which was “unsustainable” in the long term.
“There’s also the added problem of being able to get enough bank staff for each shift,” he said. “I know that Grampian’s ‘unfill rate’ – the number of bank staff available to fill shortages – can be up to 30-50%.”
Mr Grant said: “We are working with the health board to try to resolve these shortages, but it’s not just an issue for Grampian. We need to avoid the ‘boom and bust’ approach to training nursing staff that we’ve had over the last few years.”
An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “We acknowledge there are pockets where extra pressure is placed on staff as a result of vacancies and unplanned leave.
“The recent HIS report drew attention to staffing on three wards. The issue was taken up by the [hospital] executive team as a matter of urgency and recruitment processes are now being streamlined to ensure vacancies are filled quicker.”
He added: “Since the inspector’s visit in April 2013, around 35 nurses have been offered jobs, and 50 nursing graduates will be offered posts on graduation later in the summer.”
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