Action must be taken to improve ‘limited’ data on the general practice nursing workforce in Scotland, a new report has urged.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland has used its latest workforce review to highlight the need to ‘robustly gather’ general practice nursing numbers to enable ‘appropriate planning’ for the sector.
Drawing on statistics from Public Health Scotland (PHS), the report suggests there were an estimated 1,690 whole-time equivalent nurses working in general practice in Scotland in 2022. It said there was no whole-time equivalent change from 2019, but that overall headcount had declined very slightly.
Among healthcare assistants, PHS recorded a 24% decrease in those working in general practice from 2019 to 2022 – down from 627 to 479.
The report also draws on data from the General Practice Workforce Survey in 2022 to suggest an 11.7% vacancy rate for nurses among general practices who responded. It added that 19% of practices surveyed reported vacancies for general practice or ‘treatment room’ nurses, and 10% reported vacancies for advanced nurse practitioners.
But according to RCN Scotland, figures for general practice nursing ‘are not complete due to partial practice returns and estimated figures’ and because of ‘gaps in data provision’.
It therefore stressed that ‘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’.
More widely, the report explores the ‘staffing crisis’ across all health and care services in Scotland – an issue it said that ‘has never been more apparent’.
‘Staff shortages are impacting on the quality and safety of care across all services – in acute hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and communities,’ it said.
Importantly, RCN Scotland said it was ‘calling for further recognition of and investment in’ the registered nurse role across community, social care and primary care services, ‘to ensure the workforce reflects increasing clinical need and changing models of care’.
As part of its key recommendations, RCN Scotland said data used to inform workforce planning ‘must be improved’.
‘This includes addressing the gaps in the workforce data for NHS, social care and general practice, as well as making health and care activity data publicly available to ensure this informs workforce planning,’ it added.
Julie Lamberth, RCN Scotland board chair, said: ‘Our highly skilled and dedicated nursing workforce deserve better and the Scottish Government must bring forward sustainable domestic recruitment and retention planning that will turn the tide of persistent nursing shortages.’
Responding to the report, health secretary Michael Matheson, said: ‘We value the work of our nursing staff and are extremely grateful for the skill and dedication they have shown, particularly over the last few years.’
He also pointed to the newly launched nursing and midwifery taskforce in Scotland, which includes the RCN, academics and both NHS and government representatives.
‘It will build on efforts to make Scotland the best place for nurses and midwives to come and work by developing plans for the retention of the existing nursing workforce, as well as looking at recruitment,’ said Mr Matheson.
‘We aim to make our nurses the best paid in the UK, as well as also having the best conditions and career opportunities.’