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Vacancies put Scottish care standards at risk

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Increases in nurse numbers in Scotland are being outstripped by vacancy rates, leading to warnings that care standards are suffering as a result.

Vacancies for nurses in Scotland are once again on the rise and nursing student attrition rates remain at a 10-year high, with a quarter failing to finish their course, according to the Information Services Division Scotland.

Figures published last week show that in September 2007 there were 57,050 whole-time equivalent (WTE) nurses and midwives in Scotland – an increase of 266 on 2006.
However, there was an increase in nursing vacancies less than three months old, from 1,671 in March 2007 to 2,072 six months later.

The majority of the vacancies, 810, were for adult hospital nursing posts.

RCN Scotland board chairperson Jane McCready said: ‘It is worrying that vacancies are once again on
the increase. This reinforces what our members have been telling us – that there are insufficient staff to provide a good standard of care.’

Drop-out rates for nursing students across all specialties for 2002–2003 were 26.4%. The drop-out rate for those choosing to study children’s nursing was even higher, at 31%.

RCN Scotland said it was working to find out why attrition rates were at an all-time high. But Ian Murray, Scottish policy adviser for the Council of Deans for Health, claimed it was because of the student make-up.

‘There has been a steady shift in the student population,’ he said. ‘Between 20% and 25% are school leavers and the rest are mature, and those mature entrants are coming to education with more complex financial and domestic arrangements.

‘Also, the bursary has not kept pace with inflation and it is increasingly difficult for them to stay on their courses,’ Mr Murray said.

He added that, although attrition data covering the years between 2003 and 2007 has not yet been recorded centrally, there was nothing to suggest the situation was deteriorating further.

In December, the Scottish Government announced that £5m a year would be invested in improving support for nursing and midwifery students throughout their training. Student numbers were also set for 2008–2009 at 3,060 nurses and midwives.

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