A record high number of nursing and midwifery vacancies in Fife has been branded “deeply concerning” at a time when health services are already stretched and struggling.
MSP Alex Rowley has written to NHS Fife’s chief executive asking what action is being taken to address staffing shortages after official statistics revealed a significant rise in unfilled posts in the past year.
The number of nursing and midwifery vacancies across Fife has risen to 342, which is around 8% of posts and represents the highest level ever in the region.
Rowley believes urgent remedies are required to avoid putting patient safety at risk, although NHS Fife has said challenges in recruiting qualified staff are being experienced by health boards across the country.
Around 40 nurses and midwives have been recruited internationally and are due to arrive within a matter of months, while ex-army personnel are also being specifically asked to help boost numbers.
However, Rowley believes more has to be done to curb the NHS’ continuing staffing crisis before more serious consequences arise.
“NHS nursing staff have never been under such intense pressure and the additional vacancies are driving existing staff to consider leaving the profession,” he said.
“The Scottish Government should listen to the calls from the Royal College of Nursing and act now by bringing in a fair pay rise for nursing staff, develop proper workforce planning and fully implement safe staffing legislation.
“It is crucial that NHS Fife demonstrate what actions they are taking to recruit the staff we need but also to support the existing staff deal with the pressures when they are so understaffed.
“Our nurses, and indeed all NHS staff, have been working flat out throughout the pandemic and deserve all of our respect.
“This is why it is so vital we make sure action is taken to address existing staff burnout and recruit more people into the profession.”
The rise in vacant nursing and midwifery posts in Fife has been marked in the last year in particular.
A year ago there were 250 vacancies in the region, 92 fewer than at present, and as such there was less reliance on the use of costly agency and/or bank nurses.
In response to Rowley’s concerns, NHS Fife associate director of nursing, Nicola Robertson, said the health board has been “recruiting extensively” for nursing and support staff throughout the pandemic.
She explained: “This work is continuing with many of our vacant posts newly created roles rather than simply backfilling existing positions.
“There are, however, considerable pressures on nursing staffing at present and recruitment is undoubtedly challenging due to there being a limited supply of suitably qualified or experienced staff, coupled with the need for an expanded nursing workforce due to the pandemic and the subsequent vaccination programme.
“A number of programmes are currently ongoing which are successfully assisting us in increasing our qualified nursing workforce. As well as recruiting here in Scotland, we are recruiting across UK and internationally, with around 40 highly experienced nurses from various parts of the globe due to begin working here in Fife in the spring.
“A specific effort is also ongoing to target qualified former military personnel to work on our wards and in our communities.
“Importantly, however, we are not simply recruiting qualified nurses but also expanding the wider team supporting our frontline clinicians, such as our administrative and clinical support staff.
“Indeed, in excess of 90 people were interviewed for such vacancies last month alone and we are currently expanding our nurse bank to widen the pool of non-qualified clinical support we have available to us.
“Even with the significant work already outlined in terms of recruitment, our staff continue to work under considerable pressure due to the unprecedented demand for healthcare services we have seen in recent months.
“As we have throughout the pandemic response, we continue to work with our staff-side and union colleagues to provide every possible support to those staff working tirelessly on our frontline to care for those who need it most.”