National Health Service (Ageing Workforce)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st November 2019.

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Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking given the warnings from NHS Grampian about its ageing workforce. (S5O-03790)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

In NHS Grampian, there have been increases in whole-time equivalent staff numbers of people who are aged 50 and over, but those are partially offset by increases in the younger age bands, from 20 to 29. Of the three key care providing staff groups that are featured, only nursing and midwifery has a profile of notable increases in older age bands. We are increasing the number of training places for medics, nurses and midwives in the north-east. The 2019-20 intake of nursing students at the Robert Gordon University and the University of the Highlands and Islands was increased by 9.7 per cent. All of that means that we will be progressively growing more of our talent in the north-east. Recent media coverage has highlighted the positive working partnership between NHS Grampian and developing the young workforce Moray, including an event that took place on 8 November to encourage young people to consider a career in NHS Grampian.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before I call Mr Chapman again, I point out that quite a few people have pressed their buttons. I remind members who have pressed their buttons that their supplementary question should be about NHS Grampian.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

Given that Dr Gray’s hospital has already experienced downgrades in women’s and children’s services due to a shortage of doctors, what assurances can the cabinet secretary give to patients that that will not happen to other services at hospitals in NHS Grampian?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The issue at Dr Gray’s hospital is slightly more complex than Mr Chapman has said. I am very happy to write to him in detail about that, bearing in mind the Presiding Officer’s wish for short answers.

Work has been undertaken at Dr Gray’s in phase 1 of the plan to return services to their full capacity. Phase 2, which I have signed off, is also on track, but there has been an additional complication in relation to guidance on anaesthetics, which means that the board is undertaking more work at Dr Gray’s.

I noticed that NHS Grampian has undertaken a very important initiative with colleagues in the housing sector and in other public services. Housing provision is being looked at in order to encourage the workforce to stay in NHS Grampian, particularly around the Moray and Elgin areas, and to attract new members of the workforce who might, for limited periods of their career, want to experience the significant services that Dr Gray’s offers. That is a good thing, and it is much better to get young talent to come to NHS Grampian in that way. If housing is part of the barrier, all credit to NHS Grampian, the local authority and others for taking forward that initiative.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

We debated our NHS workforce on Tuesday, and I understand that Mr Briggs will raise the issue in a later question. Does the cabinet secretary agree that Conservative plans to cut immigration and end freedom of movement could send Scotland’s working-age population into decline, which might cause staffing shortages in NHS Grampian and other boards in the future?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That question was loosely related to the topic. I ask for a very quick answer, please, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I will be very brief, Presiding Officer.

I agree with Emma Harper. It is important for our NHS, as well as for the rest of our public services in Scotland, that we have full control over immigration powers, so that we can tailor policies and practices to meet Scotland’s needs.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

The cabinet secretary will be well aware that allied health professionals are a key group in NHS Grampian and beyond, but the Scottish Government has no direct involvement in their training. Will the Scottish Government re-examine that area in relation to workforce planning?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

We have a creative group of MSPs in the chamber, Presiding Officer.

I absolutely agree that allied health professionals are key, particularly but not exclusively to primary care. They also have a big role to play in secondary care and in social care. We have had discussions with the representative bodies, and I am sure that David Stewart knows that we have recently appointed, at Government level, a professional lead for allied health professionals, who is working in the chief nursing officer’s directorate. That is an important step forward for us and an important indication that we want to look at what we can do to ensure that we train and upskill all our allied health professionals, including those who are currently in post.