Union calls for urgent action to tackle nursing workforce shortages

Concerns have been raised over the impact of staff shortages on patient care.

Union calls for urgent action to tackle nursing workforce shortages iStock
The Royal College of Nursing Scotland has warned of the impact of shortages on patient care.

Urgent action must be taken to address shortages in Scotland’s nursing workforce, according to a union.

It comes as figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) indicated that the country has the lowest increase in the number of registered nurses of the four UK nations.

According to the statistics, 2750 nurses and midwives quit the profession last year.

However, the report showed that the overall number has increased, having risen to a total of 71,802 in March 2022.

It is an increase of 1013 on the previous year’s total, and means Scotland has 2893 more nurses than were on the register in March 2018.

The numbers include a number of health professionals who opted to remain in the workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic and retired when the emergency subsided.

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland represents nurses, health care support workers, nursing students and midwives across Scotland.

They have called for nursing staff to be recognised for the complexity of the job they do and to be “rewarded fairly” for it.

And the union has also warned that staff shortages are having an impact on patient care, as well as on the wellbeing of staff themselves.

Colin Poolman, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, outlined the need to address the issue.

“While numbers of registered nurses are moving slowly upwards, Scotland has seen the lowest increase of the four nations and the loss of 2750 nursing and midwifery staff is being felt across health and social care services,” he said.

“Staff shortages have been impacting on patient care and the wellbeing of nurses and nursing support workers, long before the pandemic.

“With over 6000 nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS and significant shortages of registered nurses within Scotland’s care homes, more must be done to retain current nursing staff and ensure nursing is attractive, well paid and meaningfully supported.

“We’re calling for urgent action to address Scotland’s nursing workforce challenges. Nursing staff deserve to be recognised for the complexity of skill and expertise they demonstrate every day and rewarded fairly for the job they do.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that staffing is at a “record high level” following a decade of growth.

“We are immensely grateful for the incredible efforts of all of our NHS and Social Care staff over the course of the pandemic,” they said.

“Staffing is at a record high level following ten consecutive years of growth, with overall staffing up by over 22% since 2006.  

“Our national strategy commits to increasing the NHS workforce even further, with 1800 additional full time posts on top of projected workforce growth requirements.”

The spokesperson said that student nurses and midwives studying in Scotland are the “best-supported” in the UK.

“There has been an increase in the number of student midwifery places this year and the shortened midwifery course for existing staff is now opening for its second year, which will help deliver safe, effective quality care for women and their families, as well as developing our existing workforce,” the spokesperson continued.

“The £10,000 non-means tested and non-repayable bursary and free tuition, combined with placement expenses and free uniforms for eligible students, make student nurses and midwives studying in Scotland the best-supported in the UK.”

They added: “To maintain our staffing levels, it is critical staff wellbeing is looked after and they are able to take the rest breaks and leave to which they are entitled, as well as being given time to access national and local wellbeing resources at work.

“That is why we made £12m available in 2021-22 to support the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.”