Scotland’s hospitals have been given a recruitment boost as hundreds of additional healthcare support staff and overseas nurses are recruited to help the NHS through “unprecedented challenges”.
More than 1000 support staff will work in a variety of roles in acute hospitals and community health teams.
The drive for more support staff, backed by £15m, was launched by Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf last October to help the country through the pandemic.
Under a separate £4.5m initiative, 191 nurses from countries including India and the Philippines have been offered employment, with some already working in hospitals and healthcare settings across Scotland.
Agreements are in place with recruitment agencies to hire a further 203 nurses.
The figure is likely to increase significantly over the coming months as health boards take advantage of new infrastructure for employing qualified international staff, the Scottish Government has said.
Yousaf said: “The pandemic has been the biggest shock our NHS has faced in its 73-year existence.
“To help deal with winter pressures and pressure brought on by the current Covid wave we are expanding and investing in our NHS workforce.
“Our hardworking and compassionate health and social care staff have been on the front line of patient care throughout the pandemic and I am incredibly grateful to them all.
“In October, we set ambitious targets to boost the number of healthcare support staff and step up international nurse recruitment.
“I am delighted with the success of the recruitment campaigns and seeing the new staff already providing frontline patient care.”
Around 155,834 whole-time equivalent staff were working for the service at the end of December, according to the NHS Workforce statistics.
Yousaf added: “Scotland has the best-paid NHS staff in the UK and record workforce levels, with more than 155,000 whole-time equivalent staff now working in the service. We are determined to continue this progress as we recover from the pandemic.
“Our National Workforce Strategy for Health and Social Care commits to understanding how we can achieve a more sustainable, skilled workforce which makes careers in health and social care – at all levels – more attractive.”
The Scottish Government has provided £1m for the development of infrastructure for an ethical international recruitment system.
All international recruitment is in line with the Scottish Code of Practice for health and social care personnel, which demonstrates Scotland’s commitment to ethical recruitment to protect the healthcare systems of developing countries.
But Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, accused the Scottish Government of “raiding the healthcare systems of other nations” to “paper over their own failure” by failing to adequately train and recruit staff in Scotland.
She added: “Our NHS is under phenomenal pressure but this SNP government has failed time and time again to ensure that we have enough staff to weather the storm.
“It was the SNP that presided over 6600 nursing vacancies and slashed the number of nurse training places despite being warned about the consequences.
“In place of SNP failure, Scottish Labour has a plan to tackle the workforce crisis by training the workforce we need here – not last minute recruitment raids.”
And Sue Webber, the public health spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the “SNP have presided over a shocking shortfall of vacancies in our health service during their time in power” and were now “patting themselves on the back for playing catch-up when it comes to recruitment”.
“Frontline staff have gone above and beyond during the pandemic but are beyond breaking point. Any additional staff is welcome for our health service, but we need to see more urgency from SNP ministers,” she said.
“A&E waiting times are out of control, the backlog for patient treatment is ever growing and vacancy levels among our nursing and midwifery sector are now in the thousands.
“Too many patients are suffering as a result of the SNP’s inadequate NHS recovery plans and that needs to change urgently.”