Scotland politics

Patient care 'compromised' by staff shortages, says RCN survey

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Staff shortages are adversely affecting patient care in Scotland, according to a nationwide survey of nurses.

Half of those consulted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said patient care was compromised by insufficient staffing on their most recent shift.

The claims emerged in a submission to Holyrood's health committee on the 2018/19 draft budget.

The Scottish government said the number of nurses and midwives had significantly increased since 2012.

It is also committed to increasing the number of training places for health care workers, Health Secretary Shona Robison added.

However the report is the latest in a series of warnings over staffing issues in Scotland's health service.

The RCN's submission was based on the preliminary results of a survey of 3,300 nurses and health care support workers from across Scotland.

Of those who said high quality care had been affected by staff shortages, a third said there were not enough registered nurses.

A quarter said there were inadequate numbers of health care support workers and nearly half had concerns about the mix of skills on their last shift.

Other findings include:

  • Just over a third of those surveyed reported the use of bank and agency staff during their most recent shift;
  • They accounted for about one in eight of the workforce on that particular shift;

The RCN used their report to call for more support for the healthcare workforce.

It said: "There needs to be recognition of the fact that people are the NHS' greatest resource and that investment in workforce will have a positive impact for patients, as well as seeing improvements in areas like sickness rates and retention."

And it added: "The RCN recognises the Scottish government's commitment to scrapping the 1% pay cap for NHS staff, but unless staff are appropriately remunerated, as well as being given the time and support to develop, issues around recruitment and retention within nursing teams will persist."

The RCN will publish more detailed analysis of the survey results later in the summer.

'Damning insight'

The findings have led to further claims that morale among health care staff is at "rock bottom" and nurses are being "stretched to breaking point".

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "This is a deeply worrying revelation.

"It reinforces our warnings that the SNP has presided over a workforce crisis in our NHS, leaving staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.

"Morale is at rock bottom in the health service, with staff reporting there simply aren't enough of them to do the job properly. That risks compromising patient safety.

"This is part of the legacy left by Nicola Sturgeon who as health secretary slashed the number of training places for nurses and midwives.

"As a result, spending on agency nurses in Scotland has risen six-fold in just five years under the SNP, which is just one reason why our health service is in desperate need for a meaningful workforce plan."

Serious concerns

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat's health spokesman, described it as a "damning insight" into the state of Scotland's NHS.

He added: "Our nurses within the NHS work incredibly hard but it is clear they are being stretched to breaking point.

"The SNP need to step in immediately and make sure that our wards are fully staffed.

"That starts by scrapping the NHS pay cap and give staff the resources and support they need to do their jobs. "

The Scottish Conservative's Miles Briggs said hospitals were being hit by the SNP government's "horrendous lack of forward planning".

"This is more damning evidence of that mismanagement, and it comes from those who know best," he added.

"We have warned the Scottish government for years that there aren't enough nurses working currently, and there aren't enough coming through the system.

"This falls completely on the SNP's head, and it must act swiftly to address these very serious concerns."

'Safe staffing'

Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary for health, defended the government's record.

She said: "There are over 3,300 more whole time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff working in our NHS compared to five years ago. This year we have also increased nursing and midwifery training places by 4.7%, bringing the total number of places available in 2017-18 to 3,360.

"For the last five years, this government has made consecutive increases to the number of student nurse training places.

"We're working with health boards to reduce the overall use of agency staff, including by establishing regional and national staff banks - which allows health boards greater access to a pool of highly-skilled, flexible NHS staff. Last year, agency nursing represented just 0.4% of the total NHS nursing workforce."

She added: "Our recently published NHS workforce plan also sets out a commitment to delivering around 2,600 additional nursing and midwifery training places by the end of this Parliament, as part of a wide-ranging set of measures to support and sustain our workforce.

"In addition to this we have committed to enshrine safe staffing in law and are currently considering the responses we received to the recently closed consultation on this."

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