Nursing numbers continue to fall

Marlyn Glen

31 August 2012

The downward procession in nursing and midwifery staff numbers in NHS Tayside continues, at complete odds with the fact-defying assertion of the SNP Government election promise that they would “ protect the NHS budget in Scotland for the duration of the next Parliamentary term - ensuring frontline health services are protected”

The number of nursing and midwifery staff in NHS Tayside fell in the three months up to June to 5,048 ( whole time equivalents) from the previous quarter (January –March) when the figure was 5,085  .

37 nursing and midwifery staff have been lost.

The added significance of the June figure of 5,048 nursing and midwifery staff is that it is already lower than the figure NHS Tayside projected for the end of this financial year in  March 2013 – 5,068.

Across Scotland overall, the numbers of nursing and midwifery staff have fallen by over 280 between March and June.

The Scottish Government has attempted to inflate the number of nursing and midwifery staff by now including interns in the count, a practice which RCN Scotland describes as “ not a true reflection of the nursing workforce”.

RCN Scotland add too that, in contrast, health boards are not allowed to count interns as members of their ward workforce staff.

Health boards such as NHS Tayside have been forced by the Scottish Government to make 3 per cent “efficiency savings” this year which equates to £24 million.

This presents big problems for health boards faced with little or no alternatives but to squeeze staffing levels with recruitment freezes and the re-deployment of staff.

In such an environment, “efficiency savings” is a euphemism for cuts.

RCN Scotland make the point well :

“Difficult decisions about how a health budget at a standstill can meet growing demand need to be made and the only way that the public, patients and NHS staff will support these decisions is if the NHS presents a clear picture of the pressures that the health service is under and the choices it faces.

“Indeed, lack of clear financial information means there is no way to verify that ‘efficiency savings’ being made by Scotland’s health boards are not actually cuts to services by another name."

And what has this, amongst other fasctors, produced ?

My friend and colleague Councillor Lesley Brennan recently revealed that almost 250,000 working hours were lost last year through stress–related conditions amongst NHS Tayside staff.

Within NHS Tayside, between April 2011 and March of this year, the highest level of sickness absence from all conditions was amongst nursing and midwifery staff  - 6.3 per cent.

Yes, there have been massive cuts made to the Scottish Government’s budget made by the Tory-led UK Government, the impact of which has been felt right across the public sector, including the NHS.

However, the SNP government has aggravated their impact with its flagship  5-year council tax freeze.

This is targeted to help the very well off in Scotland most of all, while the average tax payer gains around just £2 per week.

The independent SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre ) has produced figures that show the huge amounts of money involved in freezing the council tax.

The total cumulative cost of freezing the tax from its introduction in 2008-09 to the end of this session of the Parliament in 2016-17 is estimated to be £3.1 billion.

Compare £3.1 billion with this year’s total budget for all of Scotland’s health boards - £8.6 billion.

While the Scottish Government Health Secretary said before last year’s election that they would

“ protect the NHS budget in Scotland for the duration of the next Parliamentary term”,  the Scottish Government website displays figures from the 2011 Spending Review of its spending plans for health that tell a different story

 (Table 7.02 : Spending Plans

Total health spending in real terms ( £millions) is :

2011-12 11,368  
2012-13 11,300 cut by £68m
2013-14 11,212 cut by £88 m
2014-15 11,049 cut by £163m


In total this amounts to cuts of £319 million in real terms over the next three years.

The only appropriate response to the assertion  “we will protect the NHS budget in Scotland for the duration of the next Parliamentary term “  seems to be the old saying :

“You may be entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”


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