MORE THAN 30 nursing and midwifery vacancies at NHS Borders are not causing undue delays to patient treatment, according to local health chiefs, writes Mark Entwistle.
The health authority was responding to concerns voiced by local Conservative MSP John Lamont, who claimed the 33.5 full-time unfilled nursing and midwifery vacancies could lead to unnecessary strain on current staff and services.
The number of nursing and midwifery vacancies in NHS Borders has shot up over the last year, reaching a three-year high, according to Mr Lamont, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire.
And he says the present total of 33.5 full-time equivalent vacancies, is significantly higher than the 4.3 registered at the same time last year, and the 5.3 in 2010.
“The nurses and midwives working in our health service do a tremendous job and without their efforts our healthcare system would simply not function,” he told us.
“It is therefore hugely concerning that NHS Borders currently have so many vacancies running within our region.
“While we can always expect some posts to be temporarily vacant, the number of empty posts has risen hugely compared to previous years.
“We now have eight times more vacancies than last year and it raises serious questions about what effect this is having on the service provided to local patients.
“Not only will current staff be placed under significant strain, it will understandably cause delays to patients requiring treatments as there are fewer people qualified to carry it out.”
And he added: “Although NHS Borders has one of the lowest number of vacancies in Scotland, we cannot afford to put patient care at risk and I hope that more of these positions can be filled soon to plug the gap in the workforce.”
NHS Borders told TheSouthern it had the second lowest number of vacancies of all mainland health boards and that it can usually fill vacant posts reasonably quickly.
“Only about five whole-time equivalents of those vacancies are for more than three months, this being the turnaround period to ensure pre-employment checks, such as criminal records disclosure and health screening, to safeguard patients before new staff start work,” said a spokesman for the health authority yesterday.
He added: “We do not believe vacancies cause any undue delays to patients requiring treatment as waiting times within NHS Borders are amongst the lowest in Scotland.”
NHS Borders added it works in partnership to review nursing and midwifery establishments, taking account of the needs of different services.
The spokesman said: “The higher number of vacancies than previous years indicates that NHS Borders is actively recruiting nursing and midwifery staff, as workforce establishments are approved.
“In the meantime our nursing and midwifery bank provides a value for money solution and ensures temporary staff are appointed to provide the right staffing levels. NHS Borders efficiently engages bank nurses to ensure safe provision of our services as part of a supplementary workforce to cover unplanned gaps, including vacancies.”
Asked if Mr Lamont could be certain the vacancies would not simply be filled by the redeployment of NHS Borders staff from other positions, his spokesperson replied: “Our concern in this instance is less to do with where the people to fill the positions will come from, as we do not know for sure who they’ll be, but more that while these positions go unfilled, there is the work of 33.5 people that is having to be covered by current staff or is not being done at all.”