Arranging maternity leave cover, filling vacancies and overcoming harsh winters are issues many employers have to contend with, however, for a health service, such concerns have a far greater significance.
The well-documented shortage of nurses and midwives across Scotland’s healthboards underlines just how big a challenge the NHS is facing, so it is of little surprise the amount being spent to bring in extra staff in Forth Valley to deal with the aforementioned difficulties has gone up in the past five years.
However, what is alarming is the extent of that increase.
In total, NHS Forth Valley forked out £8,049,898 to cover the cost of bank and agency nurses in 2017/18, compared to £6,586,890 five years previously — a jump of 22 per cent.
Despite the hike in fees, Professor Angela Wallace, NHS Forth Valley’s director of nursing, believes the service is well-placed to cope with the demand and carry on providing for patients due to its record in recruitment.
She said: “Over the last five years we have employed an increasing number of nurses and midwives and only use our local nurse bank to provide short-term cover for maternity leave and vacancies while new staff are being recruited.
“This ensures our wards have the staff they require to continue to provide high-quality patient care. Over the last few years we have also employed additional bank staff to provide extra support during the busy winter period and many of these nurses have secured permanent posts.
“NHS Forth Valley has a good track record in recruiting and retaining nursing and midwifery staff and we work very closely with the University of Stirling to offer a wide range of nurse training and student work placements.”
Although NHS Forth Valley has plans in place to secure additional nurses and midwives when needed, the very fact the healthboard has such a system has seen the Scottish government come in for criticism.
Conservative politician Alison Harris, Central Scotland MSP, has blamed the government’s “dreadful” planning and a lack of adequate training for the national shortage of nurses.
Ms Harris said: “There will always be a place in the NHS for bank and agency nurses, particularly as the population ages and increases, but the sheer rise in their use is a reflection of dreadful workforce planning by the SNP government.
“It has consistently failed to train enough nurses over many years and the price of that is shortages on wards not just in Forth Valley, but right across the country.
“The SNP has been warned for years about reducing nursing cover and the difficulties presented by an ageing population but these have been ignored, and now the taxpayer has to foot the bill by shelling out tens of millions of pounds on expensive agency nurses and bank cover.”
While refusing to ignore the national problem, Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald, of the SNP, highlighted an increase in the number of students choosing courses in nursing and midwifery as a positive.
He said: “Clearly, we need more nurses, and any action to reduce the numbers of bank nurses required is welcome, so to that end I’m pleased to see reports that the number of student midwives and nurses entering Scottish government-funded degree programmes will increase by 10.8 per cent in 2018/19. The increase will mean a recommended intake of 3724, up from 3360 in 2017/18. This is progress.
“NHS Forth Valley, along with other health boards throughout the country, has a clear action plan in place to try to reduce the use of agency staff.
“The introduction of regional staff banks to ensure there is a greater pool of flexible staff available to cover short-term gaps is also helping. Enhanced governance is also in place to ensure that when temporary staff are required, then an agency is the very last resort.”