More than 700 places to study nursing at university have not been filled, new figures indicate.
According to data from UCAS, the universities admissions body, 4,130 students have been accepted onto courses for nursing for the coming term.
However, it is short of the intake recommended by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) of 4,837 students.
The shortage comes despite official figures showing that as of March this year, the NHS had more than 6,200 vacancies.
Eileen McKenna, associate director for nursing, policy and professional practice at RCN Scotland, called on ministers to act to ensure that nursing is seen as an “attractive and rewarding” career.
Nurses in Scotland are already set to be balloted for industrial action by the RCN after a 5% pay offer from the Scottish Government was rejected.
“Nursing is a fantastic career with a vast range of opportunities and seeing so many decide that their future is in nursing spurs the RCN to keep fighting for our profession,” said McKenna.
“However, today’s figures are extremely worrying. The impact of failing to fill the number of places on nursing and midwifery courses must not be underestimated. This will only add to the nursing workforce crisis.
“The Scottish Government must act now to ensuring nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding career.
“They need to reward today’s experienced staff with a fair pay rise and demonstrate that a career in nursing shouldn’t come with a personal sacrifice.
“They need to ensure nursing students have adequate financial support to allow them to prioritise their education and cope with the rising cost of living.”
The Scottish Conservatives have criticised the Scottish Government over its workforce planning for the NHS.
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the party’s health spokesman, accused health secretary Humza Yousaf of “shambolic mismanagement” of the NHS, which he said had left nurses overworked and under-rewarded.
“These statistics are both deeply concerning and a further indictment of the SNP’s new dire workforce planning in Scotland’s NHS,” he said.
“There is already a reported shortfall of 6,000 nurses in Scotland, so if we’re ever to address that long-term we need a large, steady flow of new graduates coming into the profession.
“So for 1,000 places on nursing and midwifery courses to remain unfilled is the last thing our overstretched health service needs.
“But it appears Humza Yousaf has created a vicious circle in recruitment. His shambolic mismanagement of the NHS which has left us with too few nurses who feel overworked and under-rewarded is putting off young students from joining the profession and alleviating the problem.”
Yousaf indicated that he looks forward to any remaining places on medical and nursing courses being filled.
“Nursing and midwifery staffing is up by 5.8% since the onset of the pandemic,” he said.
“The clearing process is ongoing and final numbers will not be known until the end of the cycle in December.
“However, it’s welcome that compared to 2019, today’s UCAS figures show there has been an increase of over 5% in the number of acceptances of nursing places and over 7% in midwifery places in Scotland.
“For context, the number of nursing acceptances in Wales are down by over 17% over the same period.
“I look forward to any remaining places on medical and nursing courses being filled.”
The health secretary insisted that current and future students will be “vital” in work to expand the capacity of the NHS.
He continued: “We have increased available places on undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses over 10 consecutive years, doubling the number in the last decade, and increased the non-means tested, non-repayable nursing and midwifery student bursary to £10,000 in 2020.
“Free tuition is also provided for eligible undergraduate students in addition to funding for placement expenses, uniforms, and disclosure and health checks.
“Current and future students will be vital in our work to expand the capacity of the NHS and I would like to congratulate all those who have secured a place and all those still going through the clearance process.”