Nearly 500 nursing and midwifery posts have been lost in Scotland since the end of March, with a similar number predicted to go over the next six months, according to latest workforce data.
Scottish government figures, published today, show the NHS nursing and midwifery workforce in Scotland fell by 486 whole time equivalent (WTE) posts between 31 March and 30 June – down from a total of 57,166 to 56,681.
This compares with the loss of 107 WTE senior managers and 500 administrators over the same period.
Workforce projections from Scottish health boards, also published today, show the trend is set to continue. They forecast a total decrease of 988 WTE nursing and midwifery posts during the 12 months to 31 March 2012 – meaning a further 502 posts are due to disappear on top of the 486 that have already gone since the start of the financial year.
The figures reveal a continued acceleration in the loss of nursing and midwifery posts, which are now at their lowest point since 2006.
Around 700 posts were lost during the six months between September 2010 and March 2011, and 550 in the 12 months preceding that, from September 2009 to September 2010.
Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “I appreciate that any reduction in the NHS workforce – particularly when it involves nurses – will cause concern.
“The fact is, though, that the NHS doesn’t stand still. The way that services are delivered is constantly changing. It is therefore inevitable that the size and shape of the NHS workforce will change to reflect this. Indeed, in times when resources are tight…it is vital that changes to improve both quality for patients and efficiency for the public purse are speeded up.”
She added: “My assurance to staff is that there will continue to be no compulsory redundancies in the NHS. Any reductions this year will be realised mainly through natural turnover.”
But Theresa Fyffe, director of Royal College of Nursing Scotland, described the “rapid acceleration” in the loss of nursing posts as “bad news for patients”.
She said: “The Scottish government and the NHS are now faced with a huge challenge – to find ways to deliver high quality services to more people with increasingly complex needs with an ever shrinking workforce.
“Some health boards are saving money by cutting beds and therefore the staff needed to run these beds. But as demand hasn’t disappeared, where are these services now being provided? Where is the evidence of an increase in community services and the nurses needed to provide them, for example?”
She added: “Many health boards are doing their best to meet difficult challenges. But instead of overseeing thousands of disjointed cuts, the Scottish government should step up to the plate and support health boards to make difficult regional and national decisions to manage demand and change services, while ensuring quality and efficiency.”