Agenda: The nursing workforce crisis demands urgent action

LAST week, Scotland welcomed nurses and nursing students from across the UK as the annual congress of the Royal College of Nursing – the biggest event on the nursing calendar – took place in Glasgow.

Having been unable to hold Congress for the past two years, there was great excitement to meet again in person, but the exhaustion, pressure and impact of the past two years was visible, both on the faces of the participants and in the topics discussed. The nursing workforce crisis was a consistent theme throughout the debates with specific discussions on safe staffing, overwork, overseas recruitment and compassion fatigue.

Congress’s return to Glasgow marked six years since the First Minister pledged to introduce safe staffing legislation and three years since the Health and Care (Personnel) (Scotland) Act became law. Our members appreciated the opportunity to meet Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services Humza Yousaf during Congress and raise directly with him the lack of progress on legislation and the impact that continued pressures on services have on patient care, staff welfare, recruitment. and retention.

Although long overdue, the Cabinet Secretary’s commitment to publish a timetable for implementing the law by the end of June, following pressure from the College, was seen as a step in the right direction. We look forward to seeing the details of the implementation plans and working with the Scottish Government and employers to ensure this vital legislation makes a real difference for patients, care home residents and nursing staff.

Last week also saw the release of the results of our latest Nursing Survey and the latest NHS workforce statistics. With 9.5% of registered nursing positions in NHS Scotland unfilled, it is sadly no surprise that 86% of nursing staff said their last shift was not staffed enough to meet to all the needs and addictions of their patients and nearly 70% said patient care was compromised as a result. Again, these figures highlight the extent of the continuing shortage of registered nurses and nursing support staff in our NHS and social care services and why this legislation is needed.

However, our members made it clear in their conversation with the Cabinet Secretary that legislation alone will not solve this crisis. There is a need to continue to focus on growing and retaining the nursing workforce in Scotland through a better workplace culture and more opportunities to work flexibly, as well as increasing support for those wishing to come and work in Scotland from abroad.

Underlying all of this is the need for fair compensation that truly values ​​and reflects the critical safety role that nurses play 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in our hospitals and in our communities in the field of health and social services. The Cabinet Secretary has left no doubt about the strength of RCN members’ feelings on pay and the role this plays in ensuring Scotland has the nursing workforce it needs .

Colin Poolman is Principal of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland

Michael A. Bynum