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More questions than answers in Scottish workforce plan, say nurse leaders

Detail on funding and implementation are missing, says RCN Scotland

Caroline White

Friday, 30 June 2017

The latest health and social care workforce plan* for Scotland, published earlier this week, is missing a considerable amount of detail on how it will actually be funded and implemented, nurse leaders in Scotland have said.

On Wednesday the Scottish government announced that it intended to create around

2,600 extra nursing and midwifery training places over the next four years, under wide-ranging measures to bolster NHS Scotland’s workforce. 

These include extended ‘return to practice’ programmes, improved recruitment and retention, particularly in rural areas, and support to attract and retain staff.

The focus will be on priority areas, including primary care, mental health, midwifery, maternal and child health and more remote areas, particularly the north of Scotland.

And up to 100 additional medical student places will also be created. This is over and above the extra 40 places from next September.

Other commitments in the workforce plan include setting up a new National Workforce Planning group to oversee the recommendations; further work with health boards to strengthen the recruitment and retention of staff; and improved national, regional and local planning to ensure staff resources are allocated effectively.

A follow-up plan covering social care will be published in the autumn, with a third for primary care around the end of the year. A combined plan will then be published in 2018.

“The NHS workforce is at record levels in Scotland, but it’s clear that demand is going to continue to rise in the years ahead. Increasing staff numbers is part of the solution,” said health secretary Shona Robison.

Since September 2006, NHS Scotland staff numbers have increased by 12,646 (12,369.0 whole time equivalent), up 8.4% (9.7% whole time equivalent).  

“Creating that sustainable workforce is a crucial part of supporting our Health and Social Care Delivery Plan, published in December,” she added.

But Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director, said: “It’s good that the Scottish government has listened to RCN calls for more student nurses. But, as ever the devil will be in the detail, and a lot of the detail is missing from this plan.”

She continued: “On the face of it, the increase doesn’t cover the existing 2,800 nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS in Scotland. The plan doesn’t set out how much money is going to be invested in growing the nursing workforce. And more information on the assumptions used in reaching the figure of 2,600 nurses and midwives is needed.”

She added: “But even the best laid plans depend on nursing being a profession people want to join and stay in. Unless nurses are paid fairly for the work they do and get the development they need to continue to do their job well, nurses will continue to leave. If Scotland doesn’t have the nurses, patients won’t get the care.”

Earlier this week, the chair of BMA Scotland, Dr Peter Bennie, called for “a realistic approach to workforce planning in Scotland” that was “based on an honest and shared understanding of the current medical workforce numbers, and an evidence-based view of what future healthcare demand will mean for the number of doctors required.”

He said: “We need a clear and agreed approach to delivering and retaining this future workforce. We need to be able to fill vacancies so that we can look after our patients properly and take care of our own health, reducing the risk of burnout.”

* National Health and Social Care Workforce Plan - Part 1 a framework for improving workforce planning across NHS Scotland. NHS Scotland, June 2017

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