latest health care news

09.06.15

Recruitment and retention problem among Scottish consultants and nurses

The BMA has warned of a major recruitment and retention problem among Scotland’s consultants as the latest figures show vacancy rates continue to rise.

Official statistics from Scotland’s Information Services Division (ISD) show that vacancies WTE (whole-time equivalent) rose by 25.5% between March 2014 and 2015 to 407.6 posts.

Posts are also remaining unfilled for longer, with the number of WTE posts vacant for six months or more rising by 86.4% to 147.7.

The data shows there are the equivalent of 4,918.4 full-time consultants working in the NHS in Scotland.

A previous BMA investigation suggested that the official vacancy rate — 7.7%— was significantly underestimating the situation.

BMA Scottish consultants committee chair Nikki Thompson said the figures were extremely worrying.

“Consultants, in post and working, are vital to patient care. Jobs unfilled after months on end puts huge pressure on services as remaining consultants struggle to cover the gaps,” she said.

“Consultants in Scotland are utterly committed to their patients, and to the health service, but the vacancy problem is getting worse, and we cannot continue like this.

“The Scottish government must recognise that it has a major recruitment and retention problem, and take action to value the consultants we have, and attract those others that patients and services desperately need.”

Scotland health and well-being secretary Shona Robison said the number of NHS staff overall was at a record high — and that the number of consultants had also risen to its highest ever, with an annual increase of 4.8%.

She said: “This demonstrates that, to give people the high-quality health care they deserve, we are investing in and supporting a highly skilled NHS Scotland workforce.”

Vacancies in nursing and midwifery have also increased, the figures showed, with 1,981.5 WTE posts empty at the end of March, of which 472.7 had been empty for at least six months.

Meanwhile use of agency nurses and midwives increased by 53.4% over the past year, with the bill rising from £9.3m to £16m.

Theresa Fyffe, the RCN’s director for Scotland, told the Scotsman the figures were “disturbing but entirely predictable”.

She said: “While credit must be given to the Scottish government and health boards for increasing the number of nurses they employ, we did warn that cuts to the nursing workforce should never have been made over the period 2009 to 2012.

“Coupled with a lack of supply due to the reduction in nursing students over the same period, we are now seeing a workforce that is overstretched and overburdened as health boards struggle to replace nurses who leave or retire and patient demand continues to rise.”

The Scottish health secretary put the rise in nursing and midwifery vacancies down to the creation of new posts in health boards, mainly as a result of information from the workload and workforce planning tools.

“Several health boards have received additional investment to increase their nursing numbers and are in the process of recruiting these additional nurses,” Robison added.

“The spend on agency nurses has fallen under this government and the £16mspent in 2014-15 is down by almost 40% from £26.47m in 2005-06.

“We’re examining ways to support boards embed the reductions in their agency spend in recent years in light of a very small increase of 0.1% of nursing shifts filled by agency staff in the last year.”

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