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Scottish nursing workforce being 'chipped away'

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The loss of nursing posts in Scotland is accelerating, latest workforce figures reveal.

The number of nursing and midwifery posts fell by more than 700 during the six months between October 2010 and April 2011, according to figures from the Scottish government.

The number of whole time equivalent staff in post on 31 March 2011 was 57,166, compared to 57,878 on 30 September 2010 - a decrease of 711. This compares to a loss of 550 posts during the first nine months of 2010. 

The latest figures reveal a steady decline in Scottish nursing and midwifery posts since a peak of 58,428 in September 2009.  

There have also been reductions in the use of agency and bank nursing and midwifery staff. The figures show the use of agency staff decreased between April 2010 and April 2011 by 47.6%. Bank usage decreased by 13.1% over the same 12 months.

Royal College of Nursing Scotland director Theresa Fyffe warned that continually “chipping away” at the nursing workforce by failing to replace leavers was “unsustainable”.

She added: “Not only that, while reducing reliance on expensive agency nurses to provide backfill is welcome, the reduction in use of bank nurses means that staff left in post are doing more and more work with less and less staff. The resulting pressure that nurses and others are under has consequences for patient care.”

Instead of trying to provide current services with fewer staff, she called on Scottish health boards to work with unions to reconfigure services in order to save money, but without compromising on quality.

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