NHS Scotland is facing a staffing crisis as a new survey shows six in ten are thinking about leaving their job while the number of nursing and midwifery vacancies has hit record levels.
Findings being published today have laid bare the level of pressure Scots nursing staff are under compared to their counterparts south of the border, nearly two years into the pandemic.
The survey of 1300 staff by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, the union and professional body indicates a far wider level of staff wanting to quit in Scotland compared to elsewhere in the UK.
It comes as they raise concerns that there are a record 5,761 nursing and midwifery vacancies in NHS Scotland as of September, including a shortfall of over 4,100 registered nurses. Around 40% of care homes for adults report registered nurse vacancies.
Meanwhile new figures show just half of all adults have seen an NHS dentist in the last two years.
With the coronavirus pandemic having seen a drop in appointments, new data from Public Health Scotland showed that as of September 30 last year, only 50.2% of adults had seen an NHS dentist in the preceding 24 months.
The RCN study reveals Scots nursing staff are regularly working beyond their contracted hours, with nearly three in four feeling under too much pressure at work and too busy to provide the level of care they would like.
Of the 61% of nursing staff in Scotland thinking about leaving their current post, 41% said they are considering going, with 20% actively planning on quitting.
In comparison, the RCN’s UK-wide Pay and Working Conditions survey, undertaken at the beginning of the pandemic found that 36% respondents were thinking about leaving that year.
Key reasons for thinking of leaving include feeling undervalued, feeling under too much pressure, low staff levels and low pay.
Nearly 40% of Scots nursing staff said they were working beyond their contracted hours most shifts and just over two in three saythey are too busy to provide the level of care they would like.
The survey, carried out before the Omicron wave hit, meaning the current pressures are almost certainly even worse shows that 72% said they are under too much pressure at work.
The RCN Scotland analysis comes as Holyrood is preparing to debate the Scottish government’s 2022/23 budget this week.
In the light of these findings, RCN Scotland urged the Scottish government to take steps to avoid a nursing crisis in health and social care, including implementation of safe staffing legislation and delivering a fully funded, meaningful pay rise for nursing staff.
Commenting Colin Poolman, RCN Scotland interim director said: “Nursing is a hugely satisfying and rewarding career, but with so many nursing jobs unfilled in Scotland, the situation is simply unsustainable. These findings paint a worrying picture of the pressure that Scotland’s nursing staff were under before the most recent wave of the pandemic. Staff are working unpaid overtime, are under too much pressure and unable to provide the level of care they would like.
“With around 5,000 NHS nursing and midwifery posts unfilled, it must be a wake-up call to the Scottish government that nearly 6 in 10 of our members are thinking about leaving. We need to take steps now to ensure we recruit and retain the nursing staff that health and social care needs.”
In November RCN Scotland said the shortfall between the number required to run the health service – known as the nursing establishment – and the number that the number in post had soared from 1,613 in June, 2015 to 3,438 by June this year.
Mr Poolman added: “The Scottish government’s budget has to address both poor staffing levels and low pay as a priority. The Scottish government must commit significant additional funding to provide and support a sustainable workforce as well as the implementation of safe staffing legislation. We simply cannot afford to expect nursing staff in health and care settings to carry on working understaffed and poorly paid.”
At the close of 2021 RCN said it was continuing its fair pay for nursing campaign, after its proposals for industrial action failed to attract enough engagement from members.
The college’s position is that nurses across the UK need a 12.5% pay increase to bring their wages in line with rising costs of living and to properly recognise the profession’s skills and contribution.
But the deals implemented for 2021-22 were a three percent uplift for NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and four percent for most NHS nurses in Scotland branded “unacceptable” by RCN.
At that point RCN Scotland was still in a trade dispute with the government in that country over this year’s deal.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “WE are immensely grateful for the incredible efforts of all of our NHS and Social Care staff over the course of the pandemic. We are demonstrating that gratitude through our actions, not just warm words.
“Our nurses and NHS staff are already the best paid in the UK. The 2021-22 pay uplift saw staff receive an average 4% pay rise, the highest in the UK. As we head into negotiations for the next pay settlement we are committed to ensure that NHS Scotland nursing staff continue to benefit from the best pay and conditions in the UK.”
“The Scottish Government remains committed to supporting NHS staff, and this year we have made £12 million available to support workforce wellbeing, we will continue to engage with our staff to ensure they get the necessary support they need. To complement the help at a local level, we also have a range of resources including the National Wellbeing Hub, a 24/7 National Wellbeing Helpline, confidential mental health treatment through the Workforce Specialist Service and funding for additional local psychological support.”