The number of nurses and midwives working in the NHS in Scotland has risen to a record high but nearly 4% of posts are also now vacant.
The vacancy trend suggests staff shortages remain significant and could be growing, with health boards left with no alternative but to rely on temporary staff, unions have warned.
The total number of NHS Scotland staff in post continues to increase, with 136,684 whole time equivalent (WTE) on 30 September 2014.
The total increase in staff was 1.9%, equivalent to 2.513 WTE posts, according to the data from NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division.
“With the number of posts vacant for longer than three months also increasing for the third year in a row, the situation is becoming critical for patients and staff”
The largest annual increase was seen in nursing and midwifery, which increased by 1,038.5 WTE posts, from 57,368 in September 2013 to 58,407 in September 2014.
Unsurprisingly, nursing and midwifery continues to be the largest group in the Scottish NHS workforce, which accounted for 42.7% of all staff with 58,407.5 WTE on 30 September 2014.
On the 30 September 2014, the total number of vacancies for nursing and midwifery was 2,291.3 WTE, a rate of 3.8%. This is an increase from the rate of 3.0% in September 2013.
Of the vacancies in September 2014, 548.6 posts were vacant for three months or more. The highest number of vacancies was found in adult (319.2), mental health (70.3) and district nursing (30.5).
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “We know our NHS faces many pressures and is treating more patients, with more complex illnesses, than ever before. Despite these pressures, the fantastic staff working in the NHS continue to deliver high quality care.
She added: “That is why the increase in staffing seen under this government is so important, and why we’ll continue to protect the frontline NHS budget to help ensure that there are the right numbers of staff in the right place to deliver the care people need.”
The Royal College of Nursing highlighted the increase in the vacancy rate for nursing posts for the third year in a row.
RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “This is not good news for staff dealing with increasing demand for services day in, day out.
“While the increase in nurse numbers from September 2013 to September 2014 continues the recent welcome trend of increases, the rising vacancy rate means that staff at work have to try and cover these vacancies, in addition to their own jobs,” she said.
“It is encouraging that health boards recognise they need more nurses to meet the needs of patients and that is one of the reasons why the vacancy rate is increasing.
“But with the number of posts vacant for longer than three months also increasing for the third year in a row, the situation is becoming critical for patients and staff,” she added.