THE number of nurses in training has hit its lowest number in six years, according to the Scottish Conservatives.
Research by the party found there were 9,661 across Scotland last year, a drop of more than 500 from the previous year, when 10,189 were in training.
The most recent figure was the lowest since the 9,499 recorded in 2008/09, according to the analysis of official statistics.
While the number of first-year entrants increased from last year, the intake of 2,911 was still the second lowest since the turn of the millennium, the party said.
The Tories said it comes as health boards become more dependent on bank and agency workers to plug gaps.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We are all too aware that with an increasing and ageing population, there is going to be more pressure on nursing resources in coming years.
“So quite why the SNP has presided over a system where fewer are being trained up is a mystery.
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“We’ve got the facilities to be developing our own nurses, but find ourselves in this incredible position where health boards are having to scour the globe for staff.
“On the basis of these statistics, that problem is only going to get worse.
“It’s no wonder NHS budgets are so tight when so many unnecessary millions are spent plugging gaps.
“The Scottish Government needs to improve its forward planning to ensure we are developing the number of nurses required for all the future challenges we know are coming down the tracks.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Over the past two years the Scottish Government has increased the number of students entering funded nursing and midwifery pre-registration courses. We have supported national initiatives that improve recruitment and retention, and in recent years have seen an increase in the number of students completing the three-year course - from 1,906 in 2009/10 to 2,226 in 2013/14.
“The nursing and midwifery student intakes are based on careful strategic planning and by working closely with key stakeholder groups including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing.
“In the last year alone, over 1,000 extra whole-time equivalent qualified nurses and midwives have started working in Scotland’s NHS and we know that to increase this further we must continue to train the appropriate number of nurses and midwives to be able to provide the best possible care for the future.”
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