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Action across government required to tackle recruitment and retention challenges in rural and remote areas

15 Dec 2023

RCN Policy Manager, Nicola Gordon, gave evidence this week to Holyrood’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee as part of its inquiry into healthcare in rural and remote areas.

Nicola Gordon Evidence

During the session MSPs heard that, while nursing workforce shortages and high vacancy rates are a challenge across Scotland, these can have a serious impact on access to healthcare and social care in rural and remote areas, where even a small number of vacancies or staff absences can cause huge challenges in terms of running services safely. 

During the session we highlighted the recruitment and retention challenges in these areas and called on the Scottish Government’s Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce to ensure that its recommendations were supported by defined action to address some of these difficulties.  

In particular, we called for improved access to and provision of training and development and career progression opportunities, emphasising that nurses working in rural and remote areas are often required to have a very wide range of skills and in-depth knowledge. The fact that many services provided within remote and rural areas are nurse-led, resulting in increased clinical responsibility, needs to be better recognised. 

Other key themes discussed during the session included the need for long-term workforce planning that reflects the needs of local communities, the key role of Advanced Nurse Practitioners and the urgent need to improve the provision of permanent housing, sustainable transport and affordable childcare. 

Commenting on the inquiry, Nicola Gordon said: “Caring for people in remote and rural communities is challenging and in the Scottish government’s forthcoming rural and remote workforce strategy, we need to see further recognition of and investment in the registered nurse role across community, social care and primary care services. Ministers must ensure the workforce reflects increasing clinical need, changing models of care and the needs of local populations. 

“Recruitment and retention challenges are having a real impact and action is required across government to ensure remote and rural communities have the housing, transport and digital infrastructure, as well as the services, they need and to improve staff recruitment and retention.   

“Nursing students also need to be better supported to take up placements in rural and remote areas without falling into financial hardship. 

“Members have told us how rewarding it can be to work in these areas given the breadth of experience and the sense of making a real difference in a small community. These roles are incredibly valuable and all nursing staff working in remote and rural areas should be supported to provide the best possible patient care. This must include access to appropriate training and development and career development opportunities.” 

Page last updated - 15/12/2023