The NHS in Scotland is close to breaking point, with most nurses claiming they are forced to work overtime to meet patient needs, a new report has found.
A majority of nurses say patient care is suffering because of the pressure they are under, according to a staff survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Nurses south of the Border are happier in their work than their Scottish counterparts, the report adds.
It is only the “goodwill of nurses” that keeps the NHS running in Scotland and extra staff are “urgently” needed, the RCN has warned.
Opposition parties say it is a “damning indictment” of the SNP’s handling of the health service.
Nearly 2,000 nursing posts have been axed in Scotland in recent years. The survey finds that 54 per cent of nurses are working beyond their contracted hours each week in order to meet demands, with 58 per cent saying they are under too much pressure. More than half (55 per cent) say they are not providing the level of care they want to as the pressure builds, according to the survey of 1,681 nurses.
Norman Provan, of RCN Scotland, said the report must act as a “wake-up call” for NHS chiefs and the Scottish Government.
“It is both unfair and unsustainable to continue to rely on the goodwill of nurses to keep health services running,” he said.
Nurses are going unpaid for the extra hours they work because this was not agreed in advance, the report reveals, and time back in lieu cannot be taken because this would leave colleagues even more short staffed.
Mr Provan added: “It is apparent that health services are only managing to meet demand because of nurses willing to go the extra mile, for free.
“While there have been some welcome increases in nursing staff numbers in recent months, this comes on the back of years of cuts coupled with ever-increasing demand for services.
“There is no doubt amongst our members that many areas are seriously understaffed, which means that more nurses need to be recruited urgently or new ways found to deliver services.”
Despite the SNP government pledging to protect NHS spending in Scotland, nurses are slightly happier south of the Border.
Only 38.1 per cent in Scotland say they would choose nursing as a career if they had to do it all again, compared with 44.2 per cent in the rest of the UK.
Meanwhile, the 65 per cent of Scottish nurses who were enthusiastic about their jobs compared with 67.2 per cent south of the Border.
Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay MSP said: “This survey is a damning indictment of the SNP’s systematic policy of cuts to nursing staff. We cannot have a health service run on the goodwill of nurses who are already stretched beyond capacity – it’s not fair on them and it’s not fair on patients.”
Almost 80 per cent of staff questioned work in the NHS, with the remainder split between GP practices, the private sector, councils, charities and other bodies.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume said: “I’m extremely concerned that our NHS is at risk of buckling under the pressure caused by SNP mismanagement.
“There are still over 1,700 nursing posts vacant across Scotland. It does not take a mathematician to work out that our nurses are having to do more with less.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “The health budget is protected, so while it’s important to have an efficient NHS, there’s no excuse for slashing nursing numbers in the way the SNP has.
“We now have a situation where nurses are being asked to go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. And when that avenue is exhausted, the NHS is forced to call in expensive agency nurses, cancelling out all the savings it has made by cutting the nursing workforce.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Nurses are at the heart of Scotland’s NHS, which is why we’ve ensured they get a pay rise this year, and why we’ve rejected moves by the UK government to remove their right to pay progression, as well as other recent developments in England which erode the terms and conditions of NHS staff.
“While clinical staff, including nurses, may be asked to work additional hours, nobody in the NHS should be working for nothing. The Cabinet Secretary [Alex Neil] has asked all boards for their assurance that all staff are receiving the full reimbursement that they are due.
“Under this government, there are already over 1,000 additional qualified nurses, and thanks to the nurse planning tools, boards are projecting a further increase in their nursing staff by over 500 by April next year.”
‘Our ageing population is a big issue’
The impact of an ageing population will be a major issue for both Scotland and the UK, regardless of the outcome of next year’s independence referendum, a new report has warned.
This could mean an independent Scotland may see income tax rise to a higher level than the remainder UK (RUK), although the projected difference is “not large”, the report suggested.
Under the status quo of Scotland being part of the UK, the effective rate of income tax could have to rise from 13 per cent to 21.5 per cent between 2010 and 2060 to help meet the demands of an increasing elderly nation, it said.
The effective rate of income tax takes into consideration the effect of all taxes on income, as well as the fact that a proportion of income is not taxed.
“The bottom line is that, clearly, population ageing is a major issue for Scotland and RUK, no matter the final result of the independence vote,” the study said.
“But unless the speed and intensity of population ageing in Scotland increases rapidly relative to RUK in the years to come, demographic change is not a strong argument to influence the choice between the status quo and independence.”
One of the report’s authors, Dr Katerina Lisenkova, a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: “The main conclusion is that looking from the perspective of demographic change, population ageing is a big challenge facing Scotland in the foreseeable future regardless of whether it stays within the UK or decides to go independent.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “With the powers of independence, we could take action to meet the demographic challenge by boosting participation in the economy and growing the working-age population.”
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