Anger as NHS nursing and consultant vacancies reach record high

The number of nursing and consultancy vacancies in Scotland has reached a record high.

NHS Scotland Photo Library  Community Nurses in Balfron, Stirlingshire.  Picture by John Young / YoungMedia 2011
NHS Scotland Photo Library Community Nurses in Balfron, Stirlingshire. Picture by John Young / YoungMedia 2011

Official figures revealed a shortfall of more than 470 consultants and 3,200 nurses and midwives.

This led Labour to claim that the Scottish Government’s “mismanagement” of the NHS has left the service “on life ­support”.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

At the end of June 2017, health service statistics showed 8.5 per cent of consultant posts and 5.2 per cent of nursing and midwifery jobs were vacant, with increasing numbers of posts unfilled. Health visitors and paediatric services have the highest rates, with many having lain empty for more than six months.

It is also the first time ever that nursing and midwifery vacancy rates have breached the 5 per cent mark.

Nearly half of those have been vacant for more than six months, while some disciplines – such as clinical radiology – have vacancy rates of almost 15 per cent.

The statistics puts more pressure on the SNP, which has been consistently criticised for its stewardship of the NHS over the past decade.

The increase in vacancies means more money has to be spent on expensive bank and agency nurses, with many wards being left under-staffed.

The Royal College of ­Nursing’s associate director Norman Provan said: “We are seeing record numbers of vacancies across the NHS in Scotland.

“This is further indication that the Scottish Government and health boards have failed to future-proof the workforce.

“Faced with gaps in their teams, nursing staff are working under enormous pressure and constantly being asked to do more with less.”

Opposition politicians were quick to criticise the SNP’s stewardship of the NHS.

Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “The Nationalists have been in charge of health for a decade and in that time have presided over failure. This is a problem created by the SNP, which continually gets worse.

“In an organisation the size of the NHS, there will always be a certain number of vacancies. But this now accounts for thousands of nurses, midwives and consultants.”

He added: “The consequence of that is a huge reduction in the standard of care offered to patients and a miserable existence for staff left over to pick up the slack.

“Nothing the SNP government is doing to address this appears to be working.

“It’s time for a proper explanation as to why this has been allowed to happen.”

NHS statistics body ISD Scotland also revealed that 8.2 per cent of operations were cancelled last month, with a shortage of staff and resources often blamed for the cancellations.

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This publication shows that after a decade of mismanagement by the SNP government, our NHS is not being supported to meet demand.

“Our hard-working NHS staff are under more and more pressure as resources are constrained, and the impact is being felt by patients.

“Scotland’s NHS is in a workforce crisis, yet the SNP simply isn’t taking the action necessary to deal with it, and today the Royal College of Nursing says these staffing projections ‘will not be enough to keep pace with increases in demand’.

“Labour has set up an NHS workforce commission, consisting of independent experts and staff representatives, which will examine how we provide solutions to staffing shortages and how we can build a health service fit for the demands of future.”

The total number of NHS staff stood at the whole time equivalent (WTE) of 138,931.4 – up 0.6 per cent from June 2016 but slightly lower (0.4 per cent) than the overall number at the end of March 2017.

The NHS had 5,139.5 WTE medical and dental consultants in post – an increase of 16.3 per cent over the past five years.

However, there were 476.4 WTE consultant positions that were vacant – including 228.9 that had been lying empty for more than six months – with the vacancy rate up by 11.5 per cent since the end of March 2017 and 40.2 per cent higher than the previous year.

Nursing and midwifery staff – the largest group of workers within the NHS – totalled 59,377.9 WTE at the end of June 2017, 0.3 per cent higher than the total for the same point in 2016 but 0.7 per cent lower than at the end of March 2017.

Vacancies rose by 25.9 per cent over the year to stand at 3,231.6 WTE, with 952.8 posts having been unfilled for at least three months.

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “Under this government, there are now over 11,800 more whole time equivalent staff working in our NHS, with more consultants, nurses and midwives delivering care for the people of Scotland, helping ensure people all across Scotland get the high-quality NHS services that they rightly expect.

“We’re committed to both record investment in our health service and ensuring the necessary reforms to deliver the right staff, with the right skills, in the right place, long into the future.

“That is why we’re introducing a national and regional workforce planning system across the NHS in Scotland.

“Our national health and social care workforce plan will strengthen and harmonise workforce planning, better accounting for future demand and identifying gaps in supply.

“Through this, we will deliver 2,600 additional nursing and midwifery training places by the end of this Parliament.”

Liberal Democrats health spokesman Alex-Cole Hamilton said: “We need to see the NHS recruitment crisis brought to an end but these figures show that the SNP are letting it deteriorate.”