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'Perfect storm' brewing as workforce numbers fail to keep up with demand

Nursing leaders in Scotland are calling on the government to take action to prevent nursing heading for a “perfect storm.”

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland warned that increases in the workforce are failing to keep up with demand.

Its new report “Unheeded warning: health care” in crisis highlights risks which could affect safe staffing levels in the future.

The nursing and midwifery workforce rose by one per cent between 2009 and 2015 and numbers dropped in 2012 before recovering.

The numbers of trainees fell by a quarter between 2005-06 and 2012-13, and were affected by 20 per cent cuts between 2010 and 2013 said RCN (Scotland).

Director Theresa Fyffe said: “The last few years have been characterised by a ‘boom and bust’ approach to nursing workforce planning, with many of our health boards cutting the number of nursing staff, simply to balance their books – and then having to try and recruit more nursing staff as demand for services soared.”

An aging population with more complex conditions has also seen demand for healthcare soar.

Ms Fyffe added: “You only have to look at the latest NHS vacancy rate – which went up from 3.7 per cent to 4.2 per cent in June 2016 – to know that the very modest increase in staff is just not keeping up with demand, with a number of health boards really struggling to recruit enough staff.”

The report also found that more than half of nurses and midwives in Scotland are 45 and more nurses will be reaching retirement over the next decade.

It said Scottish government, health boards and Integrated Joint Boards needed to get better at workforce planning.

Pay restraint is also affecting recruitment and retention, according to the report.

Ms Fyffe  said: “All these factors, as well as the yet unknown impact of Brexit on international recruitment particularly in the care home sector in Scotland, are contributing to a ‘perfect storm’ for our nursing workforce.”

Health minister Shona Robison said there was an increase of more than 2,600 nurses and midwives since 2006.

She added: “Rises in nursing and midwifery vacancies are due to the creation of  new posts in health boards.”

She said the government is committed to training and retaining nurses and the number of trainees is increasing by 5.6 per cent in 2016-17.