Safe NHS staffing bill ‘can’t magically create nurses’

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A planned new law to ensure safe staffing levels in the NHS “can’t magically create nurses” in the face of a recruitment crisis, MSPs have heard.

Karen Hedge, national director of Scottish Care which represents independent health and social care providers, said there is a “huge crisis” in staffing currently, leading to payments of up to £1,200 for a night’s agency nurse cover.

“For nurses in particular the vacancy rate is currently sitting at 32%. It can’t continue… 19 care homes have closed this year because they can’t recruit nurses,” she told Holyrood’s Health Committee.

“We’re really, really struggling to recruit staff.

“Because of the 32% vacancy rate for nurses you’ll see there’s a growth in agency nurse provision of 18% in the last year.

“Just because there are more nursing agencies doesn’t mean that there are more nurses. Actually what it means is that some of our providers were having to spend up to £1,200 a night to get a nurse.”

She said the Scottish Government’s Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill is likely to see the care sector lose staff due to how it has been drawn up.

The legislation will mean NHS boards and care services are legally required to have appropriate numbers of trained staff in place and is intended to help health and care services in their workload planning.

Ms Hedge said since the bill is in stages, starting with nursing and midwifery workforce, this poses a risk care nursing staff will move to the health sector.

She said: “The bill in itself can’t magically create nurses. As much as there is whole load of other work going on around that in terms of increasing the number of student nursing places, new models of care and so on, the bill in itself will not create more nurses.”

Her concerns about the bill were echoed by others giving evidence to the committee.

Alison Christie, from the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland, said: “There is also the unintended consequence if you cannot find the staff anywhere that the tools require you to have, what happens to that service? The risk is that the service will have to close.

She added: “We’ve worked quite closely with the bill team and had several discussions with them and we’ve yet to get clarity on what the benefits or added value are that the bill will bring to people using social services or social care.”

Katherine Wainwright, representing the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, added: “We see no particular benefit and see the bill as unnecessary.”

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