Scottish Government action is necessary to halt an “exodus of nursing staff”, union leaders have said.
It comes after new figures showed 13% more employees leaving the profession in the 12 months to September 2022.
A total of 2,690 nurses in Scotland left in that time period, coming off the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register.
This was 314 more than in the previous 12 months, with Scotland seeing a higher increase in nurses leaving the profession than the 7% rise recorded in Wales, or the rises of 4% and 3% in England and Northern Ireland, respectively.
Meanwhile, there are currently more than 4,600 vacant registered nursing posts in NHS Scotland – meaning approximately 10% of all posts across the country are empty.
RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said the number of nurses quitting showed the “dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into”.
He called on the Scottish Government to not only deliver a “fair pay” settlement for nurses and safe staffing levels, but to also produce a nursing retention strategy that “sets out a plan to tackle the exodus of nursing staff from our profession”.
He made the plea as one nurse told how “staff are burnt out, exhausted and now no longer able to keep up with the constant demands for more”.
The anonymous staff nurse, who works on an acute hospital ward, added: “We are constantly being asked to give more time, more effort, cover more shifts, change our planned shifts – and that is not even taking into account Covid demands.
“This is all just down to the service being so short-staffed and unable to recruit or retain staff. Most of us can’t give any more. The workforce is exhausted.”
The Scottish Government is currently in talks with the RCN and other unions representing NHS staff over a pay settlement for 2023-24.
It comes after ministers imposed a pay deal which will give health workers an average 7.5% rise in December, which RCN nurses rejected.
Mr Poolman said at the time: “The increasing numbers of nurses leaving the profession speaks volumes about the dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into through years of underfunding and neglect.
“Nurses are under constant pressure and stress, are regularly working extra, unpaid hours to cover staffing gaps, and are then going home feeling like they’ve been unable to provide the quality of care that they want.
“The toll this takes on staff wellbeing cannot be overestimated.”
He continued: “It takes three years to educate a newly registered nurse and, on top of this, for every nurse who leaves the profession, valuable experience and expertise are lost.
“Many of those leaving will also have additional qualifications and experience of working in specialist roles.
“The Scottish Government needs to deliver fair pay and safe staffing and develop a nursing retention strategy that sets out a plan to tackle the exodus of nursing staff from our profession.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Overall NHS staffing and nursing have grown under this government, and we’re committed to supporting nurses with the best pay anywhere in the UK.
“We welcome the constructive negotiations with trade unions, including the RCN, on pay and conditions for NHS Agenda for Change Staff and we hope to deliver a pay offer that responds to the key concerns of staff across the service. Talks continue in confidence and we hope to secure agreement in due course.
“The Health Secretary met RCN and UNISON recently to hear their personal experiences of working in our NHS.
“It has always been important to us to engage directly with trade unions and we will continue to work closely with them to improve the experience of all our NHS staff.
“To address critical workforce gaps, widen access, and provide progressive opportunities for existing staff we are exploring alternative entry and progression routes to registered roles.”
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