A union has warned that staff are struggling to cope – as nursing and midwifery vacancies in Tayside and Fife remain at one of their highest ever levels.
Across Scotland, 7.1% nursing and midwifery posts are unfilled, equating to 4,854 posts – the highest ever.
In Fife, 283 nursing and midwifery positions are unfilled, representing 6.8% of all posts. For Tayside meanwhile, the figure is 439 – or 7.6%.
Both figures are slightly lower than in March 2021, but are the second highest they have ever been.
Staff desperately needed in mental health
The paediatric department has the highest percentage of unfilled jobs in both areas while staff are desperately needed in mental health too.
The Scottish Government says the number of qualified nurses and midwives working in the country has increased for nine consecutive years.
Julie Lamberth, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland board chair, says understaffed teams across the country are trying to keep up with rising patient numbers.
She said: “It is deeply worrying to have record numbers of nursing vacancies at a time when Covid cases are on the rise.
“Nursing staff across hospital and community services are under significant pressure trying to maintain services while being conscious that the number of people waiting for treatment is growing each day.
“The Scottish Government will be unable to meet its aspiration to increase activity by 10% with more than 4,800 nursing and midwifery posts left unfilled.
“Extra funding for additional beds and diagnostic centres will be of no use if we don’t have the staff, and most often that means nursing staff, to run them.”
Pay offer rejected as staff face pressures
RCN Scotland members rejected the Scottish Government’s pay offer for 2021/22 because they felt it did not go far enough to address nursing recruitment and retention.
The union is also calling for legislation that would place a duty on NHS and social care providers to ensure suitable numbers of staff are on duty.
Ms Lamberth says staff are reporting being under the greatest pressure they have ever experienced, and the vacancies are causing further work-related absences.
She said: “To address this challenge, the Scottish Government must fund a fair pay rise for nursing staff and fully implement safe staffing legislation.
“We need to ensure nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding career so that we can retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf says recent retirements will have likely contributed to the increase.
Health secretary says staffing levels are increasing
He said: “NHS Scotland staffing levels are at a record high, up by over 20% under this government.
“This includes 11.7% more qualified nurses and midwives working in our NHS. Over nine consecutive years, for the year to June, qualified nursing and midwifery numbers have grown and we have also steadily increased places on undergraduate nursing courses.
“Despite consistent NHS workforce growth over nine years, it is common for vacancies to increase in the quarter to June.
“This period coincides with end of financial year retirements and directly precedes autumn graduate recruitment.”
He says the Scottish Government’s NHS recovery plan, including £11 million of funding, will include recruitment campaigns.
NHS Tayside reducing use of agency staff
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “We have just recruited the largest number of new nursing graduates ever in Tayside with a total of 369 newly graduated nurses taking up vacant posts in the coming weeks. This is compared to 235 in 2020.
“We have also recruited an additional 316 healthcare support workers to our staff bank over the past six months to reduce use of agency staff.
“Programmes are also ongoing in partnership with universities such as return to practice for former nursing and midwifery staff and a HNC for healthcare assistants to progress into nursing, with the possibility of similar HNC courses being explored for midwifery and mental health and learning disability nursing.”
NHS Fife has been approached for comment.