Scottish Health Secretary stresses importance of nurse retention efforts

Scotland must develop policies to create a ‘modern and flexible workforce’ to address retention issues, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care said today.

Speaking at a conference on next steps for the country’s health and social care workforce, Humza Yousaf said such policies were needed to have a workforce “ready for the future”. coming “.

“We want to conserve and, of course, well-being is at the very heart of that”

Humza Yousaf

His comments came as new data revealed the extent of Scotland’s reliance on agency staff, and nursing leaders warned that labor shortages in the country were at an all-time high. critical level.

Statistics obtained through a freedom of information request by Scottish Labor showed the bill for agency nurses has almost doubled in a year, from around £47million to over £92million sterling between 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Mr Yousaf acknowledged that vacancies in health and social care were increasing, with Scotland now having 6,200 vacancies in nursing and midwifery.

He said the Scottish Government had recruited more than 1,000 additional healthcare support staff and almost 200 registered nurses from overseas to meet the unprecedented challenges facing the NHS.

However, he said “crucial” expansion was needed to attract more people to the job market, including increasing all pathways to nursing education in various fields such as adult nursing, mental health and learning disabilities.

Mr Yousaf described how the Scottish Government has increased funded places in nursing and midwifery degree programs by more than 8.7%, which equates to around 4,837 places.

A central issue affecting the workforce is staff retention, an issue Mr Yousaf said the Scottish government was trying to address.

He said: “What we hear about time and time again is about retention, and [staff] well-being is crucial for this retention.

Mr Yousaf added that in reaching out to frontline staff, the government must ‘make sure’ it gives people time and access to important interventions to support them, including support for well-being -be.

“It could be the difference between them staying and working or changing careers elsewhere, and we don’t want that, we want to retain and of course well-being is at the very heart of that,” he said. -he adds.

He stressed that it was “essential that our staff feel valued and rewarded for the work they do and that NHS Scotland and social service employers are the employers of choice”.

“Across the NHS, across the workforce, we will continue to explore, we will continue to develop policies to create a modern and flexible workforce, fit for the future. and recognizing the needs of our valuable workforce,” Mr. Yousaf added.

In addition, Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government would invest £11million over the next five years in new national and international recruitment campaigns.

He spoke of using international recruitment as a remedy for staff shortages, while also training a domestic workforce.

He said: “I’m really pleased to see that from some of the work we’ve done over the last year there’s a real appetite for people from all over the world to come to Scotland to work.”

More than 200 nurses from overseas have arrived in Scotland, with another 200 expected to arrive in the coming months, he added.

Scottish agency nurses’ expenses

The Health Secretary’s speech comes the same week as newly released figures highlight rising spending on agency nurses.

In 2021-22, more than 57,000 shifts were covered by agency nurses, representing a 192 per cent increase on the previous year, according to figures released by Scottish Labour.

These agency changes accounted for around £92m spent in 2021-22, compared to £47m in 2020-21.

The data also showed that NHS Scotland has more than tripled its agency staff bill in five years, from £29million in 2017-18.

In response, nursing leaders continued to express concern about the reliance on agency staff.

Colin Poolman, Acting Director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “Workforce shortages in health and social care services in Scotland are at critical levels, impacting safety patients and the well-being of staff.

Mr Poolman said it was “not surprising” that health boards in Scotland were using expensive agency nurses to fill in the gaps as nursing staff felt stretched and exhausted.

However, he warned that the level of spending needed to fund agency staff is “not sustainable”.

Colin Poolman

He added: “The bottom line is that Scotland does not have the nursing staff it needs to provide care for everyone who needs it.

“We must act now to retain experienced nurses and ensure that nursing is an attractive career choice.”

Also responding, Scottish Labor Health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: ‘This eye-popping bill for public purse is a direct result of the SNP Government’s failure to support Scottish nurses.

“We are now facing an exodus of nurses from the NHS due to poor management of the SNP – and the Scots are expected to foot the bill.

“This is no way to run our NHS and no way to look after the people of Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Agency nursing spending remains low and represents less than 1% of NHS spending.

“The use of temporary staff in an organization as large and complex as NHS Scotland will always be necessary to ensure the provision of vital services during periods of planned and unplanned absences such as annual, maternity and sick leave.

“The majority of these shifts are filled from the bank of NHS staff, who are NHS staff, on NHS contracts at NHS pay rates. We have over 35,000 nurses and 2,900 doctors registered through the NHS Staff Bank.

Robert M. Larson