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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Nursing numbers reach new high
Nurses
More than 39,000 nurses and midwives are working in the NHS
The number of nurses and midwives employed by the NHS in Scotland has risen to its highest level in 10 years.

Nursing and midwifery student numbers reached an all-time high, according to Information Services Division figures.

But the number of nursing vacancies increased to more than 2,000 - the highest rate in five years, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

The NHS also spent 1.5m more on agency nurses, a rise which concerned Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm.

An extra 10m was spent on bank nurses last year, taking the total to 49.5m.

Agency nurses

They are employed by the health service on NHS salaries, while agency nurses are employed by private organisations who charge the NHS for their time.

Mr Chisholm said the 18% rise in use of bank nurses reflected the benefit of more flexible, cost-effective working practices.

But he added: "I am concerned that the use of agency nurses by the NHS has continued to rise by 1%.

"The majority of NHS Boards have made substantial improvements in reducing their use of agency nurses. Others, however, have not made progress.

Incentives such as more flexible working and alternative routes into nurse training have combined to make these professions even more attractive
Malcolm Chisholm
Health Minister
"I now want to see action taken by those boards to address this as a matter of priority. Where progress is not made I will want to know why."

The number of qualified nurses and midwives working in the NHS rose by 849 over the past year, bringing the total to more than 39,000.

The Scottish Executive said that was the highest level since records began.

The number of people training to become nurses and midwives rose by 3% to 8,986.

The health minister described the figures as "very encouraging".

Steady increase

He said: "Incentives such as more flexible working and alternative routes into nurse training have combined to make these professions even more attractive.

"The Return to Practice Initiative has attracted more than 400 nurses back into the profession and this is also reflected in these new figures.

"All this means that patients in Scotland continue to benefit from a steady increase in numbers of nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals."

Mr Chisholm said more administrative and clerical support staff were working in frontline services to support the expansion in the NHS workforce.

The executive has much more work to do to ensure we have the right numbers of nurses to provide the high level of care that patients deserve
RCN Scotland spokeswoman
And the figures showed an increase of more than 300 in the number of allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists and occupational health therapists.

A spokeswoman for RCN Scotland pointed out that the growth rate in the nursing workforce was at its lowest level since 2000.

She said: "At the same time vacancy rates are at the highest rate for five years, while over 11% of the workforce could retire by 2009.

"RCN Scotland strongly believes that the executive has much more work to do to ensure we have the right numbers of nurses to provide the high level of care that patients deserve."

The SNP's Shona Robison accused the health minister of complacency and she repeated her party's call for Scotland to attract more nurses by paying higher salaries than south of the border.

'Something wrong'

She said: "The fundamental problem of a shortage of nurses is not being addressed by simple recruitment and retention campaigns, important as they are.

"And the nurse shortage is certainly not being addressed by ever-increasing numbers of administrative staff."

The Tories said the "explosion" in the number of administrative staff was utterly typical of Scotland's "centralised, one-size-fits-all, top-down health service".

The party's health spokesman, David Davidson, said: "Surely there is something wrong with a system where the rate of increase of bureaucrats so vastly outweighs that of nurses."

He claimed too many NHS staff were employed chasing "political" targets and struggling under centralised state control.


SEE ALSO:
Legal plea over nursing numbers
28 Jun 04  |  Scotland
Campaign targets nursing 'crisis'
15 Mar 04  |  Scotland
NHS staff numbers at record level
25 Feb 04  |  Scotland
Helpline 'taking staff from wards'
22 Feb 04  |  Scotland


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