SNP attacked over NHS ‘staffing crisis’

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NHS vacancies for staff such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists have reached a record high with almost 600 posts vacant, the latest figures show.

The rise in vacancies among allied health professionals is part of what Labour branded an “NHS staffing crisis”.

The same data also revealed the number of consultants posts unfilled for six months or more has risen by almost a fifth in the last year.

Almost two thirds (61.9%) of consultant vacancies have been empty for at least half a year.

According to the latest figures the health service in Scotland employed the whole time equivalent (WTE) of 139,095.2 workers at the end of June this year – a rise of 0.1% over the last 12 months.

The NHS data showed that while there have been six consecutive years of increases in staffing, the rate of growth had now slowed.

By June 30 there were 5,261.4 WTE consultants in post, an increase of 2.4% from the previous year.

The vacancy rate was down from 8.5% in June 2017 to stand at 7.6%, with 433.7 WTE posts unfilled.

But of these 268.7 WTE jobs had been vacant for at least six months – an increase of 17.9% on the June 2017.

Doctors branded the rise in long term vacancies as “deeply troubling” and said it showed health boards were struggling to recruit doctors to these posts.

Simon Barker, chair of BMA Scotland’s consultants committee, said: “The problem is compounded by an exodus of senior consultants who simply do not feel they can give of their best in a system under such strain.

“Consultants in Scotland have been handed real-terms pay cuts year after year and have once again been singled out in the Scottish Government’s most recent pay decision.

“It is simply not credible to continually erode the income of consultants in Scotland and then express surprise when posts are lying empty month after month and consultants leave their life’s work early in despair.”

He added: “Every vacant consultant post creates a dramatic knock on effect on the availability and quality of services patients experience and adds significant pressure to the working lives of NHS staff.

“As a result patients are understandably frustrated by huge waiting times for treatment and deterioration in the range and quality of care that the NHS can provide.

“The NHS will not be able to muddle through with an inadequate numbers of consultants who feel unvalued. People in Scotland deserve better.”

The vacancy rate for nursing and midwifery jobs was 5.3% in June 2018, with 3,311.2 WTE positions empty.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman (right) during a hospital visit (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Staffing figures showed 59,455.9 WTE nurses and midwifes working in the NHS, up by 0.1% on June 2017.

Meanwhile there were 11,604.1 WTE allied health professionals – which also includes podiatrists and speech and language therapists – working in the NHS in Scotland.

Vacancies for such positions reached a record high of 4.8%, the figures showed, with 588.4 WTE posts unfilled, compared to 543.4 WTE in June 2017.

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar hit out, saying: “The SNP’s NHS staffing crisis is worsening after new figures reveal 3,311.2 nursing and midwifery posts are left vacant.

“Nicola Sturgeon cut the number of training places for nurses when she was Health Secretary in 2012.

“The SNP government cannot blame the current situation on Brexit, it is a staffing crisis made in Scotland by the SNP.

“A survey of NHS staff earlier this year found only around a third of staff believe there are enough of them to do their jobs properly. The result of that is patients not getting the care they need in time.

“It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to stop putting nationalism before our National Health Service and end the staffing crisis.”

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “Scotland’s NHS is under extreme pressure, and this is largely because we’re short of more than 3000 nurses and midwives.

“The scale of vacancies across that area is a direct consequence of the SNP government’s sheer negligence on workforce planning.

“And it’s not just nursing and midwife numbers which are struggling – there are similar problems in consultant roles too.

“It begs the question what on earth has the SNP doing with its decade in government if it can’t get these numbers even nearly right.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton was also critical of the Scottish Government.

He said: “The persistently high levels of vacancies in our health service puts unimaginable strain on existing staff.

“The SNP’s haphazard and short-sighted workforce planning has left doctors and nurses picking up the slack.

“If ministers are committed to making these posts more attractive they need to back the health service with the resources and investment it so desperately needs.

“The Liberal Democrats want to see the Health Minister publish an annual report on workforce planning and lead an annual debate on it at Parliament. That would mean in future failings can be identified and rectified before it’s too late.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman highlighted the six consecutive years of growth in workforce numbers, adding: “The number of people working in our health service is at historically high levels.”

She stated: “Under this government the number of whole time equivalent (WTE) qualified nurses and midwives has increased by 5.7% and the number of WTE consultants has risen by 48.3% over the same period.

“Last week’s inpatient survey showed patient satisfaction at a record high, and today the Scottish Household Survey found that 83% of service users were satisfied with local health services. These numbers stand as testament to the hard work and dedication of the NHS workforce.

“Through our recently introduced draft legislation for health boards and care providers to have appropriate staffing in place, and our on-going investment in the NHS, we will ensure that patients will continue to receive safe, high quality care.”