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Health / Almost 30 nursing posts vacant at health board

Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital.
Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital.

NHS SHETLAND has one of the highest rates in Scotland of vacancies for nurses and midwives.

Latest figures, released by the NHS earlier this week, show that the local health board is one of four NHS boards where more than one in ten nursing and midwifery posts are unfilled.

In response to the national figures, which show more than 5,700 nursing and midwifery posts being vacant, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for new investment to tackle the NHS staffing crisis.

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The RCN also remains in a trade dispute with the Scottish Government after members rejected a four per cent pay offer for 2021/22.

Locally, these latest vacancy figures translate to 29 nursing posts unfilled last month.

Director of nursing and acute service Kathleen Carolan said that in order to maintain safe staffing levels gap in the rosters are regularly covered with agency staff as well as workers doing extra shifts.

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She said despite the pressure NHS Shetland has been able to deliver care through the most challenging times over the last two years.

The NHS data also shows that Shetland health board is this year spending £2.4 million on bank/agency staff, slightly less than a year ago.

Carolan said that NHS Shetland’s “difficulty in recruiting is reflected in the picture across Scotland and the UK” adding that “difficulties for staff in securing affordable accommodation (…) is a contributory factor when considering taking a post in Shetland”.

NHS Shetland director of nursing and acute services Kathleen Carolan
NHS Shetland director of nursing and acute services Kathleen Carolan,

She added that the crisis is compounded by pressures of the pandemic and challenges such as an ageing nursing workforce.

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“We also know that there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, and this is likely impacting on the decisions that nurses are making about moving into new roles and considering living in an island setting,” Carolan said.

Areas of “significant challenge” are currently in recruiting to more specialist posts such as emergency department nurses, renal specialist nurses, community nurses and theatre nurses.

Carolan said work to alleviate the situation is underway, such as offering nursing degree programmes locally so that people who want to enter the nursing profession do not need to travel or live on the Scottish mainland to study.

“We have been working with the Open University in particular, to enable nurses to complete their clinical placements and degree programme in Shetland,” she added.

“We are the first island board to offer children’s nurse training through the new degree programme that has been put in place and we are pleased to support our first student.”

The health board is also working with Glasgow Caledonian University and Robert Gordon University to help overcome some of the national shortages of, for example, theatre nurses.

“We do have a good track record in training our own nurses and they go on to be senior nurses who often stay in Shetland and develop specialist interests,” Carolan said.

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“And we are supporting new access routes into a career in nursing that were not available previously, this may include seeking to appoint international graduates for the specialist posts that we have found most difficult to fill.”

Ahead of this afternoon’s budget RCN Scotland interim director Colin Poolman called on the Scottish Government to ensure that nurses are paid fairly.

“The Scottish government has the opportunity to act now,” he said. “The Scottish Government must fund a fair pay rise for nursing staff and fully implement the safe staffing legislation.

“We need to ensure nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding career so that we can retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”

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