Scotland could be on the verge of a fresh hospital staffing crisis after it emerged nearly one in five nurses are aged 55 or over.
Research by the Scottish Conservatives has revealed that 18.8 per cent of the nursing and midwifery workforce in Scotland are in that age group.
That compares to 17.9 per cent last year, and just 17.1 per cent in 2015.
Earlier this year, nursing vacancies reached their highest ever level, while tens of millions of pounds are spent on agency and bank nurses to plug the gaps.
Analysis of the ISD Scotland statistics revealed, as of this year, there were 12,791 nurses aged 55 or over.
That’s an increase of more than 1,000 from two years ago and of those 3,882 were over 60, with 556 over the age of 65. Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said: “RCN Scotland has been warning of the demographic time bomb in the nursing workforce for years now. Nursing staff want to do their best for patients, but our recent research shows they are under increasing pressure as a result of high levels of vacancies - health boards and social care providers are simply unable to find the nursing staff they need. So a lot of nurses retiring around the same time is going to add extra pressure to a system. To avoid an even greater shortage of skilled nurses in the future, we need to find ways to retain the skills of older nurses who wish to remain in the profession.
Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said that while experienced nurses were a key part of Scotland’s NHS, the SNP government should have prepared for their impending retirement.
He added: “With thousands of nurses contemplating retirement over the next few years, this crisis could get even worse. The SNP has known about this challenge for several years, yet has done next to nothing to prepare for it. The SNP will no doubt blame austerity, or blame Brexit. But these are long-term problems built up entirely on the Nationalists’ watch.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This government has delivered an all-time record high number of staff in Scotland’s NHS – including more nurses. But 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.”