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Worrying new workforce and student statistics released

7 Dec 2023

More evidence published recently further underlines just how entrenched the nursing workforce crisis is, supporting our calls for urgent action from the Scottish government.

Graphic of various health care staff Last week (30 November) the mid-year report from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register showed a small increase in the total number of nurses registered with the NMC living in Scotland - up 0.5% since April 2023. 

Statistics published this week (5 December) show that 5,400 (7.7%) NHS nursing and midwifery posts remain unfilled. 

UCAS data published today (7 December) shows an 11% drop in acceptances onto nursing programmes in Scotland in the last year, the second year in a row the target has been missed.

The number of vacancies has seen a gradual decline since the peak in December 2021, when almost 10% of posts were empty. But the pace of change is not fast enough to ensure safe patient care or to reduce the risk of burnout for nurses and nursing support workers who are continuously working short staffed. Missing the target for nursing students means the number of registered nurses qualifying in the coming years will not be enough to meet the needs of the population.  

Commenting, Colin Poolman, RCN Scotland Director, said:

“The simple and distressing truth is that Scotland does not have the nursing staff required to deliver care to all who need it. The vacancy rate has fallen from almost 10% in 2021, but the pace of change is way too slow to ensure safe patient care or protect nursing staff from burnout from continually working short-staffed. The failure to fill university places means the future is looking even more challenging. And while a small increase in the number of nurses on the NMC register living in Scotland is welcome, the numbers are too small to have a significant impact.

“These reports support our calls for a nursing retention strategy, the need to do more to support and develop existing nursing staff and to make nursing an attractive and rewarding career choice. We’re calling for the Scottish government to boost the financial package for nursing students and establish a regular review of the level of support to make sure it rises in line with the cost of living.

“The Ministerial Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce is looking at the issues behind the nursing workforce challenges and will be proposing actions to address these. These reports underline how crucial it is that any actions from the Taskforce must directly address the workforce challenges and be backed by the financial resources needed to deliver change and ensure nursing is positioned as a career of choice.”

Page last updated - 07/12/2023