NHS staffing ‘crisis’ as nursing vacancies in Scotland rise by almost 20% in three months

Vacancies for nurses and midwives in Scotland have increased by almost 20% in just three months, new figures show.

Official figures revealed that at the end of September the whole time equivalent (WTE) of 5,761.2 posts were unfilled across the NHS – a rise of 18.9% from the WTE total of 4,845.4 that was recorded at the end of June.

The rise in vacancies comes at the same time as health service staffing reached a record high, with the NHS employing the equivalent of 154,307.8 full-time workers as of September 30 – 5.2% higher than a year ago.

However, opposition leaders warned the health service, which is coming under ongoing pressure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is facing a “staffing crisis” this winter.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman and deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Across our NHS services are on the brink of collapse, and things will only get worse as the cold weather bites.

“This staffing crisis at the heart of this catastrophe has unfolded entirely on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch and will jeopardise the ability of services to remobilise and cope with demand.

“Looking at the state of services in Scotland, we can all only hope we don’t get sick this winter.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called on Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to put in place a “burnout prevention strategy” in a bid to stop more staff from leaving the NHS.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s no surprise that nurses are feeling burned out and many are being pushed towards the exit.

“They’ve nursed us through the pandemic but it has been relentless and the lack of support is taking its toll.”

He added: “NHS staff have repeatedly warned that retention will be the biggest challenge this winter. They need new hope.

“It is why I’ve called on ministers to urgently introduce a burnout prevention strategy, guaranteeing leave and improving staff conditions to stop a stampede for the exit.

“Then we need to get serious about putting in place the workforce that the NHS needs to flourish. If Humza Yousaf can’t do that, we will also need a new Health Secretary.”

Mr Yousaf (pictured) said while staffing in the NHS was at record levels, ministers were “under no illusions” about the workforce situation.

The Health Secretary said: “Staffing levels across NHS Scotland have reached a new record high after an increase of over 7,500 whole time equivalent staff in the last year – more than 27,000 under this Government following nine years of consecutive growth. This means an extra 21.4% staff working in our health service.

“This is good news – but we are under no illusions that there is still much more work to be done to enhance the workforce and to support staff to deal with the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He continued: “We’ve committed a record £300 million new investment to help services deal with system pressures through our winter plan, and our NHS Recovery Plan is backed by over £1 billion of targeted investment.

“Work continues at pace to deliver the measures introduced through these plans. This new data demonstrates that our unprecedented level of investment into the system is successfully creating new posts – and we are working with our partners to fill those posts as quickly as possible.”

While the latest figures showed a rise in vacancies for nursing and midwifery staff, the number of consultants posts that were lying empty fell.

As of September 30 there were 440.1 WTE posts that were empty, down from 541.8 WTE at the end of June.

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