Hundreds of nurses are leaving Scotland every year to seek work abroad while hospitals here struggle to attract staff, official figures indicate.
There are now calls for the Scottish Government to do more to “incentivise” nurses to stay, amid concerns that patient care will suffer.
Nursing leaders in Scotland warned last month that the profession is now at “breaking point” over poor pay and conditions with many forced to quit because they cannot make ends meet.
And figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council have shown that since 2012-13, 1,609 nurses who qualified in Scotland have filled out verification requests to go and work in other countries – and the numbers have been rising in recent years.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs called for more action to ensure nurses who train in Scotland are then encouraged to stay here and work.
“At a time when recruitment is so challenging, the last thing we need is Scottish-trained nurses upping sticks and moving elsewhere,” he said.
“Clearly more needs to be done to incentivise them to stay, otherwise patients and the staff left behind will be the ones who suffer the consequences. The SNP can’t point the finger elsewhere – it must try to attract nurses who’ve left back to Scotland, and do more to make sure others don’t leave in the first place.”
It follows revelations in October that 3,000 Scottish-trained doctors have left the country since 2008.
Norman Provan, RCN Scotland associate director, said: “Scotland is already experiencing the impact of not training, recruiting, and retaining enough nurses. NHS workforce data published by ISD in December 2017 revealed that the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate stands at 4.5 per cent, with nearly one in 20 posts being vacant.
“Nurses and healthcare support workers wanting to do their very best for patients are too often coming up against the reality of vacancies in the workforce. The prolonged pay freeze and workload challenges are adding to the anger of nursing staff who are working under enormous pressure, constantly being asked to do more with less.
“Scottish-trained nurses seeking to work abroad is not the biggest issue facing the health service in Scotland. To avoid an even greater shortage of skilled nurses in the future, we need to find new ways to make nursing an attractive career choice.
“Scotland needs a robust workforce strategy that futureproofs the nursing workforce across hospitals and communities.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said NHS staff numbers are at “an all-time record high” – including more nurses.
But she added: “Brexit – and the UK government’s determination to end free movement of workers – threatens our ability to continue to secure skilled staff for our health service.”