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Fill workforce data gaps for general practice nursing, RCN Scotland urges

Fill workforce data gaps for general practice nursing, RCN Scotland urges

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland has called for an improvement in the data being used to inform workforce planning in general practice and social care.

RCN Scotland’s Nursing Workforce in Scotland 2024 report highlights the limited data on general practice nursing, insisting that gaps must be filled to ensure effective workforce planning.

RCN Scotland observed that although updated statistics have been published annually since 2022, figures are not complete due to ‘partial returns’ from practices to the General Practice Workforce Survey and estimated figures.

According to the report, there was a 12.6% vacancy rate for nurses among general practices in Scotland who responded to the General Practice Workforce Survey in 2023, and nurse vacancies were reported by 28% of general practices.

This compares with a vacancy rate for NHS Scotland nursing staff of around 8% of the workforce throughout 2023, and 5.9% at the year end.

However, NHS Education for Scotland (NES) urged caution when comparing vacancies in general practice with NHS vacancies, as the methodology is different. This is an issue that NES plans to address, the report said.

According to the figures, an estimated 1,702 whole time equivalent (WTE) nurses were working in general practice in Scotland in 2023 – an increase of 0.8% WTE and a 1% increase in headcount.

However, there has been a 7.7% decrease in headcount and 9.1% decrease in WTE of nursing support workers – with an estimated 442 nursing support workers (headcount) and 288.1 (WTE) in general practices in Scotland in 2023.

RCN Scotland said further action is needed to ‘robustly gather’ this data across the breadth of general practice to enable appropriate planning for the general practice nursing workforce and to include in wider planning for the future nursing workforce.

The report also called on the Scottish Government and employers to ensure that registered nurses and nursing support workers have fair pay, good employment terms and safe working conditions.

RCN Scotland said future pay awards should be ‘restorative and be commensurate with the demands of the role and the level of education required’.

Furthermore, the report urged the Scottish Government to develop and implement a fully  funded nursing retention strategy by April 2025, with wellbeing, workplace culture, development opportunities, flexible working and career progression taken into account.

Julie Lamberth, RCN Scotland board chair, commented: ‘The Scottish Government must get serious about the workforce crisis and the long-term implications for the public’s health.’

Ms Lamberth added: ‘Nursing vacancies are having a damaging impact on our members ability to provide safe and effective care. And on their own wellbeing when shift after shift they work extra unpaid hours to cover gaps and go home feeling that they are unable to provide the quality of care they want.’

Responding to the report and its recommendations, Neil Gray, the Scottish Government health secretary, acknowledged that ‘more needs to be done to recruit and retain’ nurses.

‘That is why I am chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce which aims to build on efforts to make Scotland the best place for nurses and midwives to come to work,’ he said.

Mr Gray added: ‘The taskforce brings together stakeholders representing all aspects of nursing and midwifery across Scotland, including higher education institutions, the RCN and Royal College of Midwives, working collaboratively to identify recommended actions to form the output of the Taskforce.

‘The RCN is fully engaged with this work and will be helping to shape the final recommendations for the taskforce.

‘Whilst there is a lot of work already underway to support a sustainable and skilled workforce, the taskforce will help us identify gaps and prioritise work, focusing on tangible outcomes that will futureproof our workforce in light of the ongoing demands that our services face.’


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